Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, lessons learned!

Wildlife refuge

A visit to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge was an educational one!  When I was young I wanted to be a veterinarian.  For years I held onto this dream.  As a kid I watched the show Daktari an American family drama series that aired on CBS between 1966 and 1969. Set in Africa this family drama focused on the father, the vet and his family as they studied the animal life and the beautiful large cats like the African lions and tigers that often would lay at their feet as they all lived together happily.  I pictured a life-like this me and the large cats living in harmony.

While I knew this was a pipe dream, a visit to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge let me know just how far off this was and that not only was it far off, but I learned it can be downright cruel when wild animals are taken from their natural habitat.

Wildlife refuge

What is Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge?

The Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR)is located outside of the beautiful Eureka Springs Arkansas on top of the Ozark Mountains this refuge is only one of a handful of legitimate sanctuaries in the nation.  Their mission is “To provide lifetime refuge for abandoned, abused, and neglected ‘Big Cats’, with emphasis on tigers, lions, leopards, and cougars.”

At TCWR, this non-profit facility takes in unwanted, neglected and abused and native wildlife. They focus on Big Cats and bear.  When I visited with a tour group from the North American Travel Journalists that were on a press trip to Eureka Springs, TCWR had around 100 animals that included over 60 cats, 6 black bears, one grizzly and a variety of a few other animals that had all found a permanent home there.

Wildlife refuge

Our tour was led by a very dedicated young intern that was passionate about the animals and showing us how important it is that we learn that cats and other wild animals are not to be put on display, petted and bred into species that nature did not intend. She and Director of TCWR, Tanya Jackson Smith, shared stories of how cubs passed around -in the short time span that a Big Cat can be passed around-often ending up with broken bones.  They shared that Ligers, a mix of a tiger and lion are usually infertile and are often inbred, that white tigers originated from a stolen albino tiger and then were inbred over and over and that the existing ones are sometimes cross-eyed, have terrible bones and other heartbreaking health issues.

History of Turpentine Wildlife Refuge

The story of Turpentine began in 1978 in the town of Hughes Springs, Texas when Don, Hilda, and Tanya Jackson rescued their first big cat which was an 8-month old cub called Bum. The cub had been rescued from a man sho that had taken the cub in on trade for money owed. When he could no longer take care of it, the Jackson’s rescued it.  Soon they took in a second lion an 11-year-old female named Sheila.  Keeping the two in their backyard which as they say on their website, “was no simple task” word spread and in December of 1991, a woman who was a notorious breeder and black market dealer showed up with 42 big cats in three cattle trailers.  The Jackson’s took them in after forming a foundation in early 1992. The lease offered an option to buy.  This is the 459 acres that TCWR sits on today.

Wildlife refuge


TWCR is open year round and has been voted one of the top 10 Arkansas attractions. There are both daily walking tours and seasonal trolley tours available.  The refuge is open everyday hours depend on the season.  There is also a gift shop open onsite and one in downtown Eureka Springs.  Turpentine Creek has over 46,000 visitors annually that come to see these rescued and endangered animals that have been given a second chance.  The stories of these animals are very emotional and each animal has his or her own special story and history. Each animal has veterinary care and funds from visitors have made the construction of an onsite veterinary hospital a reality. It costs $20 for adults, $15 for teens and $10 for children 4-12, and seniors over 65 and for veterans.  Children 3 and under are free.  There are also group discounts.

We took the guided walking tour and enjoyed watching the animals and learning about the different ones and their stories. I walked away knowing I will only visit certified zoos and will think again when I see animal acts in the future.


You can stay onsite at the Turpentine Wildlife Refuge.  It would be an awesome experience.  There are a variety of choices and the cost of lodging includes admission for two guests as well as unlimited access to self-guided areas during regular operating hours.  There is the pet friendly Siberian and Bengal Suites which accommodate up to four guests and overlook natural habitat areas.

There is also the Tree House Bungalow, the friendly Glampling Tent and the adults only Zulu Safari lodges which have a covered gazebo, fire pit and outdoor Jacuzzi.  There is also family and pet friendly RV/Tent sites as well.

Events and Details

There is an array of activities that take place at the TWCR year round. There are also internships and educational activities as well.  I was a biology major and would have loved to do my intership here!

What an opportunity to learn about what you can do to make a difference and help stop the exploitation of Big Cats and other wildlife.  Knowledge is the key.  I wanted to be Daktari, but found that it isn’t possible.  At TWCR, they don’t ever allow even keepers that know the animals to be alone with the animals over 35 lbs. ever.

These are wild animals and must and they must be treated that way at all time or someone may get hurt, person or animal, I learned a lot and you can too!

What places do you know about that we should visit and share with others?  Send me information in the comments, I would love to hear from you!