Recognize this fuzzy lion with the cute little roar? Chances are that you’ve seen him in the intro to MGM movies over 1,000 times already. His name is Leo, and he was trained by an incredibly intelligent man named Dr. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle.
Antle is the founder and director of The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), a wildlife education organization, dedicated to promoting global conservation with informative, educational, and entertaining interactive programs. Additionally, he established the Rare Specific Fund (RSF) to provide funding to critical on the ground international wildlife conservation programs, thereby complimenting the educational messages and field research of T.I.G.E.R.S. The RSF receives its financing base through a percentage of revenues taken in by T.I.G.E.R.S., the generosity of donations from exhibit guests, and the general public.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet Antle and visit the T.I.G.E.R.S. preservation in Myrtle Beach, SC. To say the very least, it was one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve ever had…
The first big cat that I met was Hercules, a Liger. Napoleon Dynamite may have made them more popular commercially, but Ligers are extremely rare to come across. Over 11 foot tall, and at 900 lbs., Hercules is not only the largest breed of cat in the world, but he is in fact THE largest cat across the entire globe. He is a cross between a male lion and female tiger; thus making him a Liger. (If a female lion were to mate with a male tiger, they would produce a Ligon.)
The next cat I met was a cheetah. The way she just stared so intently…she pierced through your soul. It was incredible. Then she walked by us, and suddenly her body became sleek and elongated, her hips dipped low — riiight, llllleft, riiiight, llllleft — and her tail sort of flicked with attitude and poise. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her….until we met the baby tigers.
They were all 1 – 6 months old Bengal Tigers, some the standard orange with black stripes, others white and black with blueish-green eyes. In between running across our legs and playing with chew toys in our laps, we fed them milk out of baby bottles and cuddled with them until they grew tired. While I held a baby girl in my arms, one of the trainers said, “In less than 20 years you’ll never be able to do this again. When children see pictures of these beauties in books, they’ll ask what they are, and we will only be able to share memories with them.” In the moment, I was so amazed and in awe to be touching the tigers; but the trainer’s words made me feel sad, desperate, and angry that human consumption is responsible for making wild tigers endangered in the first place.
The reality is that there are only about 3,000 wild tigers left in the entire world. Only 1 out of every 10 tigers lives long enough to reproduce — the biggest threats being human consumption of land and resources, starvation, and tigers killing one another over territory and food. My heart broke a little, maybe a lot..
…even more so when we watched the older adults swim and play in the pool. It’s difficult to put into words how their heart beat really pulsates through your body when you’re around them; but if I had to, I would say that it’s like falling into the slits of the soul in their eyes while an orchestra of the loudest drum beats and a stable purr soothes. It’s enchanting.
The next animals we got to play with were wolf pups. Their mom was an Arctic Wolf, their dad was a Timber Wolf, and they were gawwwwwgeous. They reminded me of my girls (huskies) so much…they way they wandered (lone wolf) only to return to their pack, they way they crooned colloquially, and their eyes…they way they felt and understood you. Wolves are said to be a guide, a symbol leading you in the right direction based on intuition; trust them, trust yourself. Like wolves, I often travel alone. I like it that way because I don’t have to answer to anyone, and I can move at my own pace. But as an only kid, I’ve always longed to be part of a bigger family and closer to my own. My little wolves have showed me unconditional love that I’ve never felt before, and for that I am grateful. The pups at the T.I.G.E.R.S. preserve felt like guides, too. Their energy was just refreshing, no words needed to be said to be understood.
Here are some of the other animals that I got the chance to meet:
In the top left is Bubbles the West African Elephant, who has been seen in a number of films and entertainment productions, such as Ace Ventura and Ashanti’s “Rock Wit U” Music Video. In the top right is an Orangutan; bottom left, a Gibbon; and bottom right, a Chimpanzee. The elephant is over 30 years old, and was raised by Antle since she was only a baby; all of the monkeys were still in their diaper days :P
Interestingly, many if not most of the animals of T.I.G.E.R.S. are actually renowned actors in over 500 film, television show and commercial advertisement credits. The list is really too long to comb through in its entirety, but some of the most recognized credits include the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Jay Leno and other late-night talk shows, Ace Ventura, Dr. Dolittle, and the Schweppes commercial campaign.
Antle helped train all of these animals, and he has used the money earned from these credits to help continue to fund T.I.G.E.R.S.
Overall, this past weekend was amazing. It of course allowed me to experience and share energy with some of the world’s greatest gems, but it also opened my eyes to the threats endangering these animals and what I can do to help. It makes me happy to know that my money is truly going to a great cause. In 10 years I want to hear that 3,000 has doubled, or more. We can all help make this happen.
If you’re interested in visiting the T.I.G.E.R.S. preservation, visit http://www.tigerfriends.com/ for more information. If you’d like to know how you can help raise awareness about endangered animals and/or donate to the RSF, visit http://www.rarespeciesfund.org/.