Ailing Big Cats Abandoned at Former Oklahoma Roadside Zoo Rescued and Moved to Caring Homes

The former Oklahoma attraction reportedly was ordered to close down in 2008 by the USDA following multiple safety and welfare violations
Photo: Oakland Zoo

Four big cats left behind at a now-defunct drive-thru roadside attraction in northeast Oklahoma are getting a second chance thanks to two sanctuaries and a California zoo.

According to the Oakland Zoo, on Friday, the California zoo teamed up with Arkansas' Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Lions Tigers & Bears — a sanctuary in Alpine, California — for a cross-country rescue involving two tigers, a lion, and a tiger hybrid that were abandoned at a closed Oklahoma roadside zoo. The four felines were the only animal left at the attraction, which used to offer cub petting and photo opportunities before the USDA shut it down in 2008 for multiple animal safety and welfare violations.

The rescue effort launched in May after a concerned resident from Oklahoma contacted the Oakland Zoo to notify them about the ailing and aging big cats. Representatives from the zoo and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge later traveled to the closed roadside zoo to conduct animal evaluations.
Oakland Zoo

"There are major red flags that show these animals were victims of the cub petting industry," said Bobbi Brink, the founder, and director of Lions Tigers & Bears, in a statement about the condition of big cats. "These cats were declawed and in poor health and living conditions. They were likely bred to be photo props, and once they grew too big and were no longer profitable, they were abandoned. We are the animals' voices, and we need to work toward education and legislation because each animal rescued makes a difference."

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After checking in on the abandoned animals, who are all-female, the Oakland Zoo and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge designed a rescue plan for the big cats with Lions Tigers & Bears. On Friday, that plan was set into motion. The four felines were safely moved from the deteriorating former roadside zoo and then transported to one of the three rescue facilities.

The elderly, arthritic lion found at the zoo was taken to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge for medical treatment and care. Lions Tigers & Bears offered a home to one of the tigers, and Oakland Zoo took in the remaining tiger and tiger hybrid.

Each rescued big cat will receive a proper habitat, diet, enrichment, and veterinary care at their new home, a significant change from the years of neglect the animals have endured.

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"These big cats were living in small, filthy enclosures. Shelter was provided but was terribly weathered and rotten," Tanya Smith, the president and founder of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, said in a statement.

"Aside from some Good Samaritans, they were left alone, fed inconsistently, and needed veterinary care. We're so relieved to provide new homes to these animals and help them thrive." Emily McCormack, an animal curator at the Arkansas refuge, added. "We are always ready and willing to collaborate with other accredited facilities when the need for rescue arises. We must fight together to resolve the big cat crisis we are facing here in the United States. No animals should suffer or live in the deplorable conditions these animals had to endure. The lioness was subjected to solitude 24/7 for seven years that we know of. It was simply inhumane."

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