How did the idea and concept of the Organization come to fruition? I founded Lions Tigers & Bears in 2002, with my husband Mark. I had been wanting to start a sanctuary for some time, after witnessing firsthand the abuses of the exotic animal trade when I was living in Texas. I moved back to California and started looking for the right property to start the sanctuary. And then in 2002, I got a call about two tigers named Raja and Natasha, who were living in a 6’x12’ chain link enclosure in a backyard in Texas. The owner bought the tigers as a gift for his wife, but they were getting divorced and he DID NOT want the wife to have those tigers. So when I got the call, I knew I had to act quickly, and in less than 30 days, I secured the permitting, funding, transportation, and a location to bring the cats back to – which is actually the same site our sanctuary is located on today. So Lions Tigers & Bears began with the rescue of Raja and Natasha, and now today we’re home to more than 65 animals, 19 species.
What is your Background? I have nearly 30 years of experience working with exotic animals, most specifically big cats and bears. I’ve made it my life’s mission to end the abuses that stem from this heinous industry, one animal at a time. I’ve worked across the country to coordinate the rescue and relocation of hundreds of big cats, bears and exotic animals – providing them an opportunity to live out their lives at reputable sanctuaries, including Lions Tigers & Bears. I’ve also testified before Congress, helping to advocate for legislation that would regulate the trade of these animals at both the state and national level and I serve on national-level advocacy groups and committees, including the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance and the Bear Alliance.
What is a typical day for you? A typical day can really vary around here! It really depends on what’s going on with our animals – because their needs come first. Regardless, I am an early riser, I go out and check on the animals, we have a team meeting each morning to discuss that day’s priorities and then from there I hit the ground running. It is a juggling act between ensuring the habitats and sanctuary grounds are organized, and taking calls, having meetings (I serve on a lot of committees and am always looking towards the next rescue), and managing the day to day administrative and operational duties of the ranch. In one day it wouldn’t be unusual for me to be outside elbow deep in dirt and bear poo, and then inside managing staff, juggling meetings and on back to back calls, and then running into town for an event or meeting with a donor.
What is the best experience thus far about working and leading such an important cause? I always say my paycheck is seeing the animals happy and thriving. The best experience thus far, is probably when I slow down and realize how far we have come. From our first rescue of Raja and Natasha from Texas, we literally had nothing out here—no running water, no electricity (I would truck up food and water daily) and just one enclosure. Today we have over 20 acres of developed habitats that are truly world class! It is amazing to see the evolution over time. But we know that we still have more work to do and more animals to save.
What does the Organization do and how can the community help take part? Lions Tigers & Bears provides a lifetime home to big cats, bears and other exotic animals. We are a true sanctuary meaning we do not buy, sell, breed, or trade any of the animals in our care.
We also coordinate the rescue of other animals out there in need of helping. There are so many ways the community can get involved and help take part. 1 – Educate yourself! Familiarize yourself with what a true sanctuary is. A true sanctuary will never buy, sell, breed, trade or exploit animals and they will never allow anyone to handle the animals for photo opportunities, etc. Look for places that are accredited by Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and the American Sanctuary Association (ASA).
2- Donate! You can visit www.lionstigersandbears.org
3 – Tell everyone you know about our sanctuary! Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, subscribe to our e-newsletter, shop on our online gift shop, and tell your family and friends about us. We are one of the only truly accredited sanctuaries for big cats and bears in southern California. The more people know about us, the more we can educate and end the exotic animal trade once and for all.
4 – Volunteer! We have volunteer tasks for everyone. From making enrichment for the animals (this can even be done at home), to helping out with visits, doing community outreach, helping out in the office, special events, etc. The possibilities are endless.
5 – Help keep wildlife wild. Never feed wildlife and if you live in bear country you can follow some simple actions to make sure you’re not attracting bears (keep your trash cans indoors until the morning of trash pick-up, don’t feed your pets outside, don’t use bird feeders, etc.)
What do you hope visitors take away when they share time with you at Lions Tigers and Bears Organization? The biggest takeaways: 1 – Know what a true sanctuary is. A true sanctuary will never buy, sell, breed, trade or exploit animals. 2 – Never participate in opportunities that allow the public to handle tigers (or other exotics like lions, bears and primates) because it is a matter of supply and demand. As long as there is a demand for baby animals to be held and posed with, these places are going to continue to breed, and animals are going to continue to suffer.