Guest Blog Post by Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
For the first time in our 28 year history, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge closed its doors on March 17, 2020, to protect our visitors, our animal care team, and our animals. All non-essential employees were required to work from home or were laid off, and our animal care staff quarantined while the site was closed. Our interns were offered the option to return to their families. They all elected to stay and help us continue to care for the animals. Our losses from Spring Break admissions, lodging, gift shop sales, classes, and in-person events exceeded $500,000. While human life seemed to come to a terrifying stop, our animals' daily needs and care continued, uninterrupted.
As a facility that is open every day of the year, except for Christmas Day, the closing afforded us the rare opportunity to get some projects done without inconveniencing visitors. We tore down the walls in our oldest bobcat enclosure to create a more spacious habitat with plenty of new enrichment features. Our gift shop received a much-needed facelift, making it more efficient for heating and cooling, and a redesign to facilitate social distancing guidelines for reopening. Work had already started on our Discovery Area, and we were able to finish the construction of the new pavilion. This 20'x40' wood-beamed structure with moveable benches will serve as a warm-weather area for our Education Department to conduct classes. It will give visitors a beautiful picnic area near the animals and shelter from rain showers when we can allow visitors to enter unattended again in the future.
On June 1, the Refuge reopened under modified guidelines. Tram tours run seven days a week, starting at 10 AM with the last tour at 4 PM. Guides will remain with groups for the entirety of the visit, including the Discovery Area that is typically an on-your-own walk-through. Hand sanitizer stations are conveniently provided at numerous locations. Masks are required for all visitors ages three and older; masks will be provided for those who do not have their own.
We also reopened our lodging on June 1. Following the Arkansas State Health Department guidelines for the hospitality industry, rooms are unavailable for 24-hours between occupancy. A tour is included with a night’s stay. Lodging Reservations can be made at tcwr.org/stay-with-us/view-all.
Another significant change has been our needing to temporarily suspend our exclusive tours, Coffee with a Curator and Carnivore Caravan. Eight cats at the Bronx Zoo contracted COVID-19, it is believed from an asymptomatic caretaker, and we decided to take extra precautions to protect the well-being of our animals. As an alternative to these popular offers, we now have a Virtual Private Tour that can be booked online. This exclusive private virtual tour is with one of our animal care staff members. Adults and children alike are equally delighted and entertained. If you have a favorite resident, we can even try to do the live event featuring that animal. The tour can be booked online at tcwr.org/visit-us/exclusive-tours.
Like so many others, we would wish that a life-impacting pandemic did not mark this year. We do not like to be forced to change but weathering this period has been a reminder to always be flexible and adjust as needed. We took advantage of the Payroll Protection Loan and applied for grants. Through these actions and the swift response of our supporters, we managed to survive. The animal residents depend on us, and we were able to meet their needs because of our extended family of supporters. We will continue to do all we can to enrich the lives of the animals we rescue and make the Refuge a fun place to visit for all ages! Those who wish to support TCWR's 83 animals but cannot visit can do so at tcwr.org/donate.
About Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
Founded in 1992, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization operating one of America’s largest big cat sanctuaries. The 450-acre refuge, located 7 miles south of Eureka Springs, is America’s premier big cat wildlife refuge. Turpentine Creek does not buy, sell, trade, or breed our animals. We are a hands-off facility and do not allow contact with the animals in our care. We are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, a member of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, a member of Tigers in America, USDA Licensed and Arkansas Game and Fish Licensed. Our Mission is to provide lifetime refuge for abandoned, abused, and neglected "Big Cats" with emphasis on Tigers, Lions, Leopards, and Cougars.