Serenity Springs Wildlife Center: A New Future for Adopted Wildlife
While many Americans enjoy the magic shows and commercials that showcase trained big cats, very few know what actually goes on after the show ends. The baby tigers that participated in the American Furniture Warehouse ads were familiar to Colorado TV watchers, but only a minuscule group of people could tell you where those tigers ended up once they had outgrown their cute, manageable size. In states like Texas, where there are no laws to regulate the ownership of non-domestic animals, many wild animals can be adopted as babies, but when they grow up, their owners realize they cannot control a large wild animal in their home. Serenity Springs Wildlife Center (SSWC), located near Calhan, Colorado, is just the place that takes in these abandoned animals and gives them hope for the future.
SSWC has a fascinating backstory and will capture any animal lovers heart. The first animals adopted by Nick Sculac, the founder of SSWC, were Aramis and his siblings, black leopards infected with parvovirus, who came from a wildlife center in Kansas that was closing down. Though Aramis’s siblings died, he survived and lived in Nick’s home until his wife made him build a cage outside the home and became the beginning of the park. The park is now 20 years old and houses more than 120 residents, mostly non-domestic felines, though there are other types of wild animals such as a binturong, some baby bears, and two coatimundis. SSWC is a non-profit 501c3 organization, which means that they receive no government funding and rely on volunteers and donations from the public to keep the park up and running.
It seems to me that SSWC is an uplifting solution to a horrible problem in the United States. Since the facility runs mainly on volunteer hours, you know the workers really want to work there to help care for the park. Watching the volunteers interacting with the animals through their cages is a rewarding experience because the animals are demonstrating natural instinctual behavior in a safe way for everyone to observe in a way that you wouldn’t normally see at the zoo in the enclosures. The demonstration of natural behaviors allows people to form an emotional bond with the animals
Visiting the park is one of the many fun things to do at SSWC. The cheapest option is only $10, where visitor contributions go straight to the park and a guided tour goes through the facility in the safe areas. If visitors have an interest in photography, some extra money allows one to gain access to the photography tours that can get up close to take pictures with the animals. The final tour available, the feeding tour, allows visitors to come along while the volunteers feed the cats and observe and take pictures. Occasionally, “playtime” is hosted, a much-anticipated event by fans of SSWC. For a period of time after adopting baby big cats, a playtime event will be offered at the end of a basic tour where, for a fee per person, up to 4 people at a time will be allowed to play with the babies hands on and take pictures with them. The playtime with the babies is an excellent option to allow people to connect with the animals because it allows people to really get up close and personal with the tigers and have an experience that they would have never had the option to have otherwise. All of the money from these visitor based options, combined with donations that volunteers collected, help pay for the facility to function.
SSWC has made huge advancements in the care of the non-domestic felines they harbor. The park finally finished constructing a veterinary clinic on site developed specially for dealing with their unusual guests, which allowed them to perform more care without the animals leaving the area. Recently, SSWC performed a revolutionary surgery on one of their most rare residents, Snow Magic, the completely white tiger. When Snow Magic suffered a spinal aneurysm that caused him to lose control of both of his back legs, they used acupuncture to restore the back right leg but were unable to save the other. They faced a choice: euthanize the rare and beautiful cat or amputate his leg using a technique that had never been used before. After raising $15,000 through donations, veterinarians transferred Snow Magic up to the veterinary school at CSU-Fort Collins to have his leg removed.
Since the surgery, volunteers have described Snow Magic as much more lively and happy, and the center is raising money to have a special handicap tub installed for him to play in. Snow Magic’s surgery has also inspired a zoo in Germany to consider a similar surgery for one of their tigers. I believe the risks SSWC has taken in providing their animals with the best care they can provide sets a incredible example for the rest of the zoological community given the care options that can become available. The possibilities this surgery has sparked in the big cat industry can make a huge impact on the dwindling tiger population.
Community support is a major part of SSWC staying up and running. While much of the work at the center comes from the help of the volunteers, volunteering is no easy task. To become a volunteer in the first place, an application must be filled out, along with a submission of character references and a background check. These steps are all necessary, because of the important and close-up interactions volunteers have with the animals. After becoming volunteers, people are trusted with running tours and keeping track of people in the park, building habitats, and feeding the animals — all essential tasks to the running of the park.
While SSWC has faced many obstacles in their history, they have shown that with the support of the community, they are able to overcome these obstacles easily. The park is constantly struggling to generate enough money to keep them running and accommodate more animals. Animals that are waiting to be accepted into the park are placed on a list, and when enough money to build a new habitat comes through, SSWC takes them in. However, there are hundreds of animals on the list waiting for a home, and very few zoological wildlife sanctuaries exist in the United States. The other two well-known parks in the country reside on opposite sides of the country in Florida and Oregon, and have more specific selections in their animals. One of the parks works mostly on rehabilitating Florida wildlife to release them again, while the other focuses mostly on sloths and husbandry of other endangered species.
The park’s prospects continue to improve because more visitors and donations translate to more habitats the volunteers can build to accommodate the animals waiting for a space. In the future, Nick the founder says he “hopes to go out of business,” but he knows that this will never happen because people will always forget that the animals are wild and untamable. This is why Serenity Springs Wildlife Center should be cherished by all as a sensible way to care for fellow creatures in need.