First, I’ll introduce myself my name is Yael and I have worked in the UK team and many of the emails you get and so generously donate for, are a part of the work that I’ve been doing for the last three years.
Felida - a special purpose
FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary has a special purpose as it caters for traumatised animals who have special care needs. Some require very intensive specific lifelong care; others have a chance to rehabilitate and move to a much bigger species appropriate home in LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary. All of the six current animals living there have a unique story, and they were all mistreated by human greed and ignorance. Understanding the uniqueness of the sanctuary and its residents makes it even more inspiring to be a part of what we do. Some of the animals have seen the worse side of humanity, whilst some have lived life in captivity driven by human greed.
Walking around the sanctuary, as an avid animal lover, it’s very natural to interpret these magnificent creatures behaviour and humanise it: “awwwww, she wants to be petted” was one of the first things I said to Tess, the lovely colleague who showed me around. But does this beautiful lioness really want to be petted? Probably not. The lesson to be learnt here is how the caretakers treat animals and really let them be an animal. I learnt how to separate myself from the situation and remember they are still wild cats and that their welfare is really first and foremost the most important consideration.
The relationships built between the animals and the caretakers takes time to grow. Trust takes time to earn, and not just with us humans. While I wanted to engage with them, I kept having to remind myself that they don’t know me as much as they do the caretakers, despite their faces that I interpret as forthcoming. And from my recent experience, it’s easier said than done.
When I left for my trip, my mother (being a typical mother) was worried I’d go into a cage for a photo… and I think she’s not alone in thinking that. I can’t stress enough that a sanctuary is not at all a place to play with wildlife. The sanctuary is a place where these animals get to finally live their lives in peace as the wild animals that they are. Their pasts may have been affected by humans but here the team does everything to just let them be themselves and choose if they want to be seen and interact with the caretakers or hide and be left alone to relax. And so, I got to look at them from afar in admiration, and pick up on cues; when a lion wags their tail, unlike with dogs, it isn’t a sign of happiness, but it could also be a sign of alertness and their way of saying back off, I’ve opted out from this photo op.
Sometimes, when we write to you about urgent animal rescues, it suggests that life at the sanctuary is their happy ending when their arrival at the sanctuary is just the beginning of their journey to recovery. For example, Elza; the beautiful lioness was brought up as a house pet until her owner couldn’t accommodate her natural wild behaviour and caged her next to her siblings, but unable to see or touch them. She is still learning from scratch how to be a lioness. Lions are social animals. They live in prides and need that social connection to feel secure. It is against their DNA to live abandoned and alone, like Elza did. She was brought up with humans since she was a young cub and still craves a human connection, and let me tell you, it may seem obvious, but it really is not.
My final thoughts...
Finally, I’ve learnt while tigers like water, lions really don’t! So whilst Tzezar, a magnificent, rescued tiger loves to bathe in his pool on a hot day, the caretakes need to be creative in how they hydrate the lions at the sanctuary. And guess what? They get popsicles, and they love it.
I’m about to go back home to my rescued greyhounds Molly and Charlie, but I’m going home even more inspired about the work we do and motivated to do even more.
Thank you Felida!