Local Wildlife Conservation is home to over 100 animals and runs tours
For the first eight years of her life, Gaby lived in a 4ft by 6ft rolling cage at a traveling zoo – well below the legal requirements for housing a tiger.
But Gaby was rescued by the Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation in 2011. Today, the beige-striped tiger frolics in her 6,500 square foot enclosure.
The nonprofit foundation is home to more than 100 animals, including about 30 endangered species. Established in 2008, the Gainesville-based foundation rescues and houses exotic animals, with the goal of supporting wildlife conservation and educating the public with weekly tours.
“Our mission is not only to house the animals; it’s to educate,” said Barry Janks, co-founder of the foundation.
The foundation hosted one of its select Wild Adventure Open House events on October 2 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. She welcomed more than 1,200 people to visit the animal sanctuary, Janks said. The event raised approximately 10% of the foundation’s annual operating expenses through donations from visitors. Its annual budget comes from touring, 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 violations, he said.
“People come here and they’re actually shocked at how nice our facility is,” he said.
Rescuers like Gaby are brought to the sanctuary by the USDA, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, zoos and other animal sanctuaries that either went bankrupt or couldn’t provide decent living conditions, he said. declared.
After her past as a show tigress, Gaby was initially shy and reluctant to interact with the Guardians.
So Janks spent the next six months visiting Gaby’s enclosure and talking to her, he said. Now she runs to Janks the moment 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 Centre, an organization dedicated to the conservation of cheetahs and other endangered species.
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“Cheetahs in the South African region are particularly at risk because they depend on farmers’ livestock for food and in turn farmers kill the cheetahs,” he said.
Janks said the organization focuses on education by offering public tours by reservation, school group tours and opportunities for veterinary students.
During the tours, visitors learn about the animals’ stories, how the keepers care for them daily and why protecting endangered species is vital, he said.
“Everyone who comes here talks to me and tells me this is one of the only places they’ve been where the animals look happy,” he said. “And that makes me so proud.”
The Janks and Ann van Dyk bought land in South Africa in 2002 and 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 receive food, spacious enclosures and proper veterinary care, said Kaitlyn Gvozden, a carnivore caretaker with the foundation.
Gator is a tiger who comes from a cub petting center, where he was starved for the first year of his life to maintain a weight below the legal limit for cub interaction with the public, he said. she declared.
“At one year, a tiger is supposed to weigh around 200 pounds,” Gvozden said. “When 11-month-old Gator was brought to the foundation, he weighed just 70 pounds and was severely emaciated. We didn’t expect him to live.
The foundation fought for Gator’s life by providing him with proper medical care and food. Guardians eventually treated Gator and he now weighs 450 pounds, she said.
Wren Andrews, 25-year-old senior carnivore keeper, said stories like Gator’s were the reason she was drawn to working for the foundation.
“I’ve heard so many stories of big cats being used as pets, put in circuses and abused,” she said. “Helping them get back to normal life is really fulfilling.”
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 his retirement 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.
“When it comes to the conservation of endangered animals, it’s important that we act now,” she said. “If we don’t, we’ll get to the point where we can’t do anything to help the species survive.”
Jenny Rogers is a contributing writer for The Alligator.
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