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Will I Get Eaten By A Tiger?

Although middle America is far from the jungles of southeast Asia, the odds of encountering a tiger on a hike some day are not zero. There could be as many as 5,000 tigers living in backyards and basements in the United States, mostly in deplorable and inhumane conditions. And because people are assholes, sometimes these animals are just released into the wild when the owner realizes how in over their heads they are trying to care for such a beast.

I wasn't thinking about this as I went for a pleasant evening trail run in Fayetteville, Arkansas last week and got off trail so many times that I ended up stumbling around with only the moonlight to guide me for well over an hour. Mostly, I was thinking about how cold I was since I was wearing only a t-shirt and shorts and the temperature quickly dropped to below 50 without the sun. (By the way, defrosting yourself is really painful) But I was also thinking how glad I was to not be in Colorado where there are bears and mountain lions, though there is evidence of mountain lions traversing the midwest.

But when I visited Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge near Eureka Springs (just under an hour's drive from Fayetteville) two days later, I couldn't help but be confronted with this reality. Turpentine Creek is a true rescue center, taking in animals from abuse situations, abandonment, and facilities that are closing, such as yes, Carol Baskin's Big Cat Rescue and Joe Exotic

Unlike Joe Exotic's zoo, Turpentine Creek is an actual sanctuary where no one, not even staff, touches the animals. And while many of them are in an area where visitors like me can observe them, they also have an entirely separate area for animals that clearly get stressed out by having people around or that are elderly. 

Every animal at the refuge has a sad story of mistreatment at the hands of humans. Your entry ticket includes a 45 minute tram ride around part of the sanctuary and the guide warns you that you will hear some sad stories about how the sanctuary acquired the animals. I don't know about "some" - they were all awful to me. By the time she got to the one she said was really sad, I was already busted up emotionally. These beautiful creatures have been kept in cages in people's basements and abandoned to floods, left to starve when the owners couldn't afford all the meat any more, and crippled by metabolic bone disease when babies are taken away from the mom too early so they can be used in petting zoos. 

The lucky ones end up in Turpentine Creek or other accredited sanctuaries with humane habitats, enrichment toys, and huge food donations from Tyson Foods. Unlucky ones are shot by the sheriff when they are found running amok in the Arkansas woods.

Thanks to the attention that the Tiger King Netflix show brought to the issue, Biden recently passed an act that bans private ownership of big cats and any petting of cubs. While no law will stop all such activity, at least I can continue to worry only about my mortal enemy, who I was a mere eight feet away from at the sanctuary and can still feel no sympathy for, knowing it's out there, stalking me.