Tigers such as this one were not kept in cages at Riverglen, but rather had a large compound in which to roam. This photo I took when the tigers were taken to the Fairgrounds for display.
Not at all an original title, but I couldn’t resist. Many years ago when I was a reporter for The Washington County Observer, a rural weekly newspaper, I was sent to do a story on a woman who ran a large compound where she kept big cats she had rescued. One wouldn’t think there would be many big cats in our Arkansas Ozarks who needed rescuing…or who even lived here. Oh, contrare! Betty Young, a woman well known in the field of zoology and the care of giant cats—most especially white tigers—was active in this rescue at Riverglen, a 501(3)(a) nonprofit organization on the outskirts of West Fork.
The white tigers are not albinos but rather a mutation from the Bengal tiger. I was anxious as I drove up to the compound. A fence higher than my six-foot tall head surrounded an area at least as large as a football field, and inside roamed some of the most majestic tigers I’d ever seen. Whoa, the first I’d ever seen up close and personal. They could roar and they were curious to see who had come to visit.
My first time there Betty explained what she did and we walked amid some smaller cages where she had ailing and abandoned ocelots, bobcats, panthers and the like. I stood on the outside of the compound and talked with some of the more curious cats who approached to sniff at my fingers through the fence. Actually touching one of these animals sent shivers of delight through me.
It wasn’t until after I wrote my first story about Betty and what she hoped to accomplish that she began to call the paper when something special happened. When she did she asked for me. I suppose because she sensed my affinity with the exquisite animals.
One call announced: “You’ve got to come look at what we’ve got. It’s black, about the size of
a bobcat, and has teeth like a saber toothed tiger.” Someone had called about this pet that was in bad shape and needed a home. Naturally, Betty immediately drove over and picked up the animal. Another reporter who wanted to see this unusual cat went with me and we hurried over and snapped this photo of a very angry black cat, probably a leopard, with unusual fangs. I don’t think he survived long as he had been sorely mistreated.
Then one day she called and asked me if I would like to accompany her into the compound and walk among those glorious animals. I had the feeling she didn’t do this with many people, though I had seen volunteers handling some of the cubs and helping with cleaning up after the cats. We stepped inside, and I saw a couple of cats playing in a child’s swimming pool. Unlike most wild cats, tigers love water.
Over the next few years I wrote several stories and sometimes just dropped by to take a look at a new liter of cubs, some of which would contain one or two white ones. At that time, she told me there were less than 500 white tigers left in the world, and many of them were in zoos or places such as she ran. She also explained that a lot of experts refused to count those bred in captivity because they weren’t tigers living within their particular accepted habitats.
I’ll never forget the day one of her charges escaped and she called the sheriff to come shoot it before someone got hurt or frightened. She cried like a baby, then had the tiger skinned and the hide burned so no one would try to dig it up for a trophy. Some had actually offered her money for the hide.
A couple of weeks ago, I was saddened to hear that Betty has been forced to let most of her tigers go because she is having trouble physically taking care of them. Since my visits in 1992-1993, she has moved the shelter from nearby West Fork to a more remote area near Mountainburg.
At least six of the 34 cats in her care were adopted by Turpentine Wildlife Refuge near Eureka Springs, Arkansas and funds are being raised on their FB page to help build appropriate living space for them. Last week I read that another facility in Kansas has adopted a few more of the cats. She hopes to keep some and continue to care for them. Most of these cats have lived at Riverglen all their lives, but at this point she has no choice but to let them go.
Since I first began writing this, more of Betty’s cats have been adopted, so I hope that eventually all but the few she wants to keep will find good homes. It’s not easy to care for an animal that weighs in excess of 500 pounds and eats an enormous amount of fresh meat each day. Many people who manage to adopt a cub don’t realize what they’ve taken on until the tiny, adorable “baby” grows into a full-grown adult with a voracious appetite and a need for plenty of space to roam freely.
After taking on the cats from Riverglen, Turpentine Creek has 116 big cats. See their Facebook Page for information on donating to help these marvelous cats in their new home.
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