Location: West Fork, Arkansas
Tim Willard spent one month during the summer of 1999 working at a tiger refuge/sanctuary in West Fork, Arkansas. Riverglen Tigers is a non-profit organization with a mission to "provide a safe and stress free environment for tigers. They also operate a behavioral research facility for tigers and are licensed by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Division to breed tigers.
"I went to Riverglen not
really knowing what to expect, but I came out with knowledge and experience
unparalleled to any previous learning environment. The work was hard
and long and the term "hands-on" took on a whole new meaning. I worked
seven days a week 10-12 hours a day doing chores and projects that included
watering, cleaning animal pens, and feeding the tigers. Although the
chores may not sound interesting or exciting or worthwhile at all, it was
during this time that I was able to establish a relationship with the cats.
I was able to touch and pet their thick soft fur. Their rough, scratchy
tongues assaulted my skin and my eyes saw the power of their claws as they
ripped away at wooden scratching posts. I learned to read the look
in their eyes and on their faces, telling me when to approach and when I
was unwanted. More than anything, I learned to always be aware and
never turn my back; even captive tigers stalk silently and stalk well.
This was the time in which I got a personal glimpse of big cat behavior.
The individual personalities each of the cats possessed and the different
relationships I developed with each of them was amazing.
Every cat had distinct behaviors, likes, and dislikes and I got to know just about all of them. Some I couldn't even approach the whole time I was there, but others would watch for me, rub up against their pens and greet me with their "chuffing" sound. Some were indifferent and some would "chuff" one day and roar and show their teeth the next. During feeding time it was mostly roaring and teeth.
Riverglen has almost 80 cats including 3 cougars, 2 black leopards, jaguar and a clouded leopard. The rest are tigers of all different ages (6 weeks - 20 years) and subspecies, including nearly 25 white Bengal tigers and a few Siberians weighing nearly 1000 lbs. This range of species and their different stages of maturity, along with the proximity I was given to the animals, made for an environment where observation and learning never ceased."
Riverglen Tigers Website:
Riverglen Tigers Internship information