Have you ever visited a place that just changed your entire perspective on the world around you? Made you really appreciate the good people in the world who are trying to make a difference? I experienced this when I spent the weekend at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. The people, the mission and the environment all impacted me heavily. If you’re looking for a place to add to your weekend trip list, put Turpentine Creek at the top.
Turpentine Creek rescues exotic cats and bears from abuse, neglect and abandonment. The sanctuary cares for the animals as the beautiful creatures deserve. Hearing the endless stories of the situations Turpentine Creek has saved animals from is absolutely heartbreaking. Lions enduring frostbite and losing parts of their bodies, tiger cubs killed after 12 weeks, pads on the bottom of paws removed – there are evil humans out there, but this refuge center truly is amazing in the lengths they go to for the well-being of the animals. I am absolutely in love after my stay.
From start to finish, I was amazed by the refuge park. I stayed in the Glamping Yurt, but they also have a vast selection of lodges, RV and tent set-ups and a treehouse. My yurt could sleep five people, shared a bathroom, had a fully equipped kitchenette and air conditioning. It had everything we needed for our stay without being too over the top in true glamping fashion. My favorite part of sleeping in the yurt was being able to hear the tigers and lions caroling to each other at night. Listening to them “sing” and communicate with each other was truly unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
During the day, we took a tram tour around the park to see the lions, tigers and the bears! I spent a lot of time with animal curator Emily McCarmack who has worked at the park for 22 years. She is passionate about what she does and you can tell that the animals love her. She’s originally from New York, but we’ll forgive her for that! She came to Turpentine for an internship and fell so deeply for the park she decided to stay a while – or forever. “I was so amazed by the mission at Turpentine, I just couldn’t leave it. This is a true sanctuary that is accredited with the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries,” Emily says. “It’s an emotional job to be sure, but it’s so rewarding to see animals getting back on their feet. Often, the young cats we rescue had been deprived of calcium and are barely able to stand. After bringing them back with us and giving them everything they need, we get to see them grow and run around. It’s truly special.”
As soon as Emily walks by, the animals all start caroling and following her as though they were her children. She loves what she does and has a fountain of information to share. The amount of info on the park I learned and stories I heard is unreal, and now that I’m back home I’ve been telling anyone who will listen. There are just so many good things happening at this park, it’s hard to keep it to yourself!
You can walk through the park and watch the cats and bears roam around in their areas, totally content. An important tidbit that I learned is that if the animals are constantly being handled by humans, those animals are not being cared for properly. There should be little physical contact with the animals as it isn’t natural for them. These cats can’t survive in the wild on their own because they have only known living at parks, they wouldn’t know what to do, but they also shouldn’t be subjected to being the object of a petting zoo and Turpentine makes that very clear. If you happened to have watched the messy show that was Tiger King, know that this is nothing like the corruption and exploitation of innocent animals you witnessed. The animals at Turpentine are rehabilitated and cared for the remainder of their lives, and the workers at the park try to make their lives as close to being in the wild as possible. The cats in Tiger King were not cared for properly, and it is those types of parks that Turpentine saves animals from.
Turpentine will go into maltreatment parks and buy the park simply to save the animals and bring them back to Arkansas. Turpentine recently bought a park in Colorado for this purpose and saved so many big cats and bears that were being subjected to conditions they should have never had to endure. It’s actions like this that should be making front page news, but I don’t think enough people are aware of all the good things happening here.
As the animals age and start becoming seniors, they are sent to another park on the property. This area is completely flat so the aging joints won’t cause any pain and the cats can continue to live in peace, and these animals are living past their life expectancy!
Another fact I would like to share with y’all: the animals were very protected this past year during the pandemic because they are susceptible to contracting COVID-19. The workers have been incredibly cautious with who the animals are exposed to and how to move forward. Just as human lives were safeguarded this whole year, Turpentine put in that same effort with their cats.
“Turpentine Creek is one of the most respected sanctuaries in the country, and we have it in Arkansas. People supporting us and coming out to see us and learn about our mission to save big cats and bears is what keeps us going,” says Emily.
How honored are we to have this place right here in Arkansas? It is such an asset and so special. Turpentine Creek deserves so much recognition for the efforts and difficult tasks they do each and every day. The things they have seen when saving animals are heavy moments that make you appreciate the life and loved ones around you. Keep the good ones close.
Go visit the folks at Turpentine and experience firsthand this life changing opportunity in our state.