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Tiger Creek Earns its Stripes

Texas Provides a Refuge to Tigers and Resort to Visitors

You might not expect to find tigers deep in the pine forests of Tyler, TX, but Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge is a 150-acre haven for exotic big cats from around the country. Founded in 1996, the refuge opened to the public in ‘97. What started off as a home for two majestic tigers soon expanded.

“Currently we have 42 animals,” says Lisa Werner, Director of Services and Programs and wife of founder Brian Werner. “Our specialty is tigers, but we also have lions, leopards, cougars, servals, and more.” Many are highly endangered, so the refuge also hopes to educate the public on Panthera Tigris before they disappear forever.

Tigers are easily one of the most beautiful, majestic, and dangerous predators on Earth, yet some people mistake their quiet power for docility and decide to illegally raise them like your average tabby. Quickly in over their heads, Tiger Creek is often called in to give them a proper home. “Tiger Creek is kind of like a glorified retirement home,” says Werner. “They come here to spend the rest of their days in comfort.”

Some tigers arrive at the refuge declawed or even half-starved. Tiger Creek staff members gain their trust and provide a comfortable home, often spending hours just sitting with them so they realize that they’re in good hands. It’s amazing how the keepers’ love and care transforms them. “They’ll come up to the fence and they’ll chuff at us. You find that even the more aggressive cats will settle down after being here.”

A non-profit organization, Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge is open to the public year-round, seven days a week. “We would like to think that Tiger Creek is a model facility for animal rescues,” says Werner. The big cats get individual, fenced-off habitats and you can walk down the paved walkway and get mere feet away from them. While you certainly can’t touch any of them, the refuge offers guided tours, displays on how they train the animals, and a chance to get closer than you could at a zoo. There are even tours offered for children with autism that have less noise and other ways to prevent sensory overload. Werner says, “We want families with special needs kids to feel welcome at Tiger Creek.”

The resort is planning an expansion up the way from the refuge. Tiger Creek Safari Resort is a living resort with an exotic experience. Director of Administration Karen Hewitt says, “It’s a new approach to what people do with resorts. What we’re going for is the exotic experience but you don’t have to go far to get it.”

“We will have cats inside (the hotel lodge) so that people can have that experience,” she continues. The idea of the resort is to bring in new donors and add more income to the refuge. “Everything is for our cats. We’re getting the word out about these cats before they’re gone.” With an RV park and clubhouse already underway, the resort will also have safari tents, swimming pools, cabins, a playground, Jacuzzis, and more.

But until the resort opens, how can you help keep this tiger preserve going? “Help by donating to or simply coming out and seeing the cats because the fee we charge to see them goes towards taking care of them,” says Werner. Kids can even “adopt” one of the cats for $30 to help provide food and healthcare in exchange for a certificate of adoption and picture of their chosen cat. But the most important thing people can do is educate others on these beautiful tigers before they’re gone. 

-By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, ALLISON BENNETT


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