Big Cat Country
The National Tiger Sanctuary in Saddlebrooke is home to exotic big cats who now call the Ozark Mountains home.
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Not far off the beaten path, between Busiek State Park and Branson on Highway 65, lies 33 acres of beautiful Ozarks scenery that are home to tigers, mountain lions, panthers and a lion named Merlin who is afraid of butterflies.
The National Tiger Sanctuary in Saddlebrooke opened in May of this year, and its owners, Keith Kinkade and Judy McGee, had a specific vision in mind for this place. “We were successful doing what we were doing, and we thought that we should be doing something to give back to the community,” says Kinkade. They both have a love for animals and just ended up running into a facility that was taking care of big cats.
The National Tiger Sanctuary is a not-for-profit educational experience aimed at all ages. Kinkade says big cats draw quite a crowd, so it was a good opportunity to provide education at the same time, living up the sanctuary’s tag line, “preservation through education.”
Educating the public about the possibility of extinction of wild tigers is a key component of Kinkade and McGee’s strategy. By doing everything in their power to make the tigers happy, they are able to let the public see what a happy tiger looks like.
McGee says it helps the animals stress levels to feel comfortable with the staff and know they are cared for. “They are independent animals that are used to caring for themselves, but now they are reliant on us to make sure they have everything they need,” says McGee.
Tigers are severely threatened in the wild. According to McGee and Kinkade, the tigers’ future in the wild may be in danger. “The tiger’s only predator is man, and probably in the next 10 to 15 years they’ll be extinct in the wild,” says McGee.
The sanctuary now has seven tigers, one lion, one mountain lion and one black panther, although three more tigers are expected before the end of the year.
The cats that Kinkade and McGee take in can never go back into the wild, and they now call Saddlebrooke their home. “We provide a space for these cats, so they can live comfortably in captivity,” says Kinkade.
The sanctuary is closed two days a week so that the cats can rest, and Kinkade and McGee have been slowly building more habitats to reduce the stress on the cats. “The things that keep cats and tigers happy are the same things that make people happy,” says McGee. “If the cats are exposed to this activity all the time, then they become reclusive and stressed.”
The National Tiger Sanctuary has more than just the cats’ well-being in mind, and education is a great way to promote awareness about the dismal future of big cats in the wild.
What: National Tiger Sanctuary
Where: 518 State Hwy BB, Saddlebrooke, Missouri
Cost: Awareness tours are $15 for adults, $13.50 for seniors, $10 for children. Feeding tours are at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. only and are $30 for adults, $28.50 for seniors, $15 for children.
When: 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday–Sunday
Tickets: Call 417-587-3633 or visit nationaltigersanctuary.org.
More information: Visit nationaltigersanctuary.org for info on the personalities of the cats and ticket information.