Sunday, March 01, 2009

Big cats in Colorado sanctuary

The Barbary lion, an extinct subspecies with a luxuriant dark mane, is the subject of an effort to breed back the strain from part-Barbary cousins around the world. Today I paid my first visit to the Serenity Springs Big Cat Sanctuary, a private rescue and retirement home east of Colorado Springs, which turns out to have a role to play in this matter.
(The sanctuary was checked during the Colorado Springs Lion episode last year, but had no escapes.)
The sanctuary is home to several "celeb-cats." One is a lioness from the film Secondhand Lions. Another is a small-maned male who was supposed to be in The Ghost and the Darkness but essentially staged a sitdown strike and was sent home.
For an oddball, there was a tiger who carried the gene that produces "white tigers" but had turned out with a normal coat. As a result of the inbreeding, though. the animal was a hermaphrodite who behaved like a male in the winter and a female in the summer. Dating must be problematical.
There was also a very large all-white tiger retired from the Tropicana hotel show troupe. His name was Snow Magic, but he was referred to as Snowman because Snow Magic seemed a little "foo-fooey" for a big male tiger. There are some 14 of these artificially bred "snow tigers" in the world.
Finally, there were a couple of real interest to me.
KK is an older male lion, a big, beautiful animal with a classic Barbary-type mane. The volunteer on duty today said KK was estimated to be 86 percent Barbary, and there were plans afoot to breed him with an almost-pure Barbary female in Morocco. The only uncertainty was whether KK was still interested in lionesses.
The guide mentioned in passing that one tiger at the center was Sumatran, and I reacted like Sam Neill when the host in Jurassic Park told him they had a T. rex. Daisy, a lovely animal with a short cinnamon coat, is believed to be pure Sumatran. I hadn't realized there was a Sumatran on the North American continent. (Actually, I realized when I looked it up that not only are there several dozen in American zoos, but I had seen three at the National Zoo a few years ago and forgotten about it. Still, it was startling to find one in Colorado.)
Visit the link above, and, if you're in Colorado, visit the Sanctuary. They love their critters and are doing great work.

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