Photo by Lauren Mueller – Diana, a White Bengal Tiger, was hand raised at Cat Haven. She is 3 years old
By Lauren Mueller, Editor
Most people, at some point in their life, have been to a zoo. Whether the tigers or the zebras were the favorite animals, it did not matter. The zoo was a fun place to go and see a variety of animals from all over the world in one place in the span of a few hours during the day.
Chances are, if there are small children in the home, many parents will find themselves at the zoo again this summer, trying to keep track of toddlers as they run through the crowds towards the monkey exhibit, acting like monkeys themselves.
But if the little ones’ favorite place is the tiger exhibit, tapping on the glass, then there is another option to consider this summer.
Project Survival Cat Haven is located in Dunlap off Highway 180. Tucked back on a road directly off the freeway, the 93-acre plot of land has been built from the ground up by founder and executive director Dale Anderson specifically for the 30 plus big cats housed there.
Anderson bought the land for Cat Haven in 1992, and it took him until 1998 to open the project to the public. Cat Haven is neither a zoo nor a sanctuary. It is, in fact, an education and conservation complex and a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Cat Haven’s mission is to protect cats in the wild. To do this, Anderson and his team partner with a wide array of conservation efforts around the world, channeling funds and supplies to those working in the field to protect the wild cats.
Anderson says the reason he has cats at the complex is to draw people’s attention.
“If I didn’t have any cats, you wouldn’t be here,” he laughed.
Cat Haven gets people’s attention so Anderson and his team can direct it elsewhere. Before embarking on a guided tour, each group is shown a PowerPoint presentation that talks about the conservation groups that the Cat Haven partners with and how individuals can help these organizations.
“Our goal is to be transparent,” Anderson said. “If you give me a thousand dollars and say you want it to go to helping the Cheetahs, every cent of that thousand dollars will go to one of our conservation partners that helps Cheetahs. I don’t skim off the top or anything like that.”
However, just handing the organization a thousand dollars will not go directly to an organization. Anderson noted that money from the gift shop and general donations are used partially to cover the operating costs of Cat Haven. The funds are divided how it best suits the needs of the animals at the complex and the basic upkeep of the 93-acre facility.
The first cats to take up residence at Cat Haven were Amur Leopards, which are among the most difficult big cats to find. Today, Amur Leopards still reside at Cat Haven along with lions, white Bengal tigers, Asiatic Leopards, Clouded Leopards, Servals, and others.
The care and keeping of these cats is a full-time job. The pens need to be kept clean, the animals need to be fed and watered, and some of them are trained on a daily basis.
Two of the lions at Cat Haven were former Hollywood cats who know commands like “sit” and “lay down.” One of the Leopards auditioned for the live-action Jungle Book (unfortunately, she didn’t get the part), and one of the Cheetahs, named Tango, travels around teaching kids and adults alike about the importance of helping wild cats.
The majority of the cats who reside at Cat Haven are captive born, and would not survive in the wild.
Cat Haven is always looking for volunteers to help with the keeping of the cats. Those as young as 16 can volunteer, but only those 18 and older can partake in keeper work.
If you’re looking for a change of scenery this summer, Cat Haven is a great alternative to the zoo. It may be a bit of a drive, but cat-loving kiddos will enjoy the experience.