Local Wildlife Conservation is home to over 100 animals and arranges tours
For the first eight years of her life, Gaby lived in a 4ft by 6ft roller cage in a traveling zoo – well below the legal requirements to house a tiger.
But Gaby was rescued by the Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation in 2011. Now the striped beige tiger is frolic in its 6,500 square foot enclosure.
The non-profit foundation is home to more than 100 animals, including around 30 endangered species. Established in 2008, the Gainesville-based foundation saves and houses exotic animals, with the goal of supporting wildlife conservation and educating the public with weekly tours.
âOur mission is not just to house the animals; it’s to educate, âsaid Barry Janks, co-founder of the foundation.
The foundation organized one of its wild adventure open house events on October 2 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It hosted more than 1,200 people to tour the wildlife sanctuary, Janks said. The event raised approximately 10% of the foundation’s annual operating expenses through donations from visitors. His annual budget comes from tours, private donors and Janks’ own pockets, he said.
The organization is licensed by Alachua County, the US Department of Agriculture, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The facility is inspected at least twice a year and has never been cited for violation, he said.
âPeople come here and they’re actually shocked at how nice our establishment is,â he said.
Rescues like Gaby are brought to the sanctuary by USDA, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, zoos and other animal sanctuaries that have gone bankrupt or failed to provide good living conditions, a- he declared.
After her past as a show tiger, Gaby was initially shy and reluctant to interact with the keepers.
So Janks spent the next six months visiting Gaby’s compound and talking to her, he said. Now she runs to Janks as she spots him.
The foundation began when Janks and his wife, Christine, traveled to South Africa in 2001 to work with the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center, an organization dedicated to the conservation of cheetahs and other endangered species.
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âCheetahs in the South African region are particularly at risk as they depend on farmers’ livestock for food and, in turn, farmers kill cheetahs,â he said.
Janks said the organization is focused on education by offering tours to the public by reservation, school group tours and opportunities for veterinary medicine students.
During the tours, visitors learn about the history of the animals, how keepers look after them on a daily basis and why protecting endangered species is vital, he said.
âEveryone who comes here talks to me and tells me it’s one of the only places they’ve been where the animals look happy,â he said. “And that makes me so proud.”
The Janks and Ann van Dyk bought land in South Africa in 2002, then opened a facility to house cheetahs and leopards until they could be moved to a safer location. Moved by the successes of the rescues, the Janks returned to the United States to open their own facility in Gainesville at 8528 E County Road 225, he said.
The facility spans 275 acres and is home to a wide variety of exotic animals, including cheetahs, lions, tigers, leopards, hyenas, caracals, lynxes, and pumas. The animals are given food, large enclosures and proper veterinary care, said Kaitlyn Gvozden, carnivore keeper at the foundation.
Gator is a tiger who comes from a petting center for pups, where he was starved for the first year of his life to maintain a weight below the legal limit for pups’ interaction with the public, he said. she declared.
âAt one year old, a tiger is supposed to weigh around 200 pounds,â Gvozden said. âWhen 11-month-old Gator was brought to the foundation, he weighed only 70 pounds and was severely emaciated. He was not expected to live.
The foundation fought for Gator’s life by providing him with proper medical care and food. The guards eventually brought Gator back to health, and he now weighs 450 pounds, she said.
Wren Andrews, 25-year-old primary caretaker of the carnivores, said stories like Gator’s were the reason she was drawn to the foundation.
âI have heard so many stories of big cats being used as pets, put in circuses and abused,â she said. âHelping them get back to normal life is really rewarding. “
The foundation is also home to Henry, the oldest male Indian rhino in the world. The 40-year-old, 4,600-pound rhino was brought to the foundation after retiring as a father for conservation purposes, Gvozden said.
Kaylee Henley, another wildlife guardian, said she admires the foundation’s dedication to educating others about endangered species and the importance of wildlife conservation.
âWhen it comes to the conservation of endangered animals, it is important that we act now,â she said. âIf we don’t, we’ll get to a point where we can’t do anything to help the species survive. “
Jenny Rogers is a contributor to The Alligator.
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