Sanctuary for exotic animals

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Safe haven

 As a child, Gail Bowen wasn’t allowed to have a pet – she’s making up for that now.


Tigers, lions, a small fox, monkeys, deer, a few bears, cougars, dogs, domestic cats and buzzards have made her place their haven.

And it is a haven because Bowen operates Endangered Animals Rescue Sanctuary (EARS).

It’s not unusual for the Florida Wildlife Commission or even the USDA to call Bowen and ask if she can make a home for a tiger or bear.  The two agencies get involved if an animal is being abused or the owner is not licensed for an exotic animal. In other situations, an animal is simply no longer wanted by its present owner or, as in another case, the tiger was confiscated by authorities during a drug bust.

Space permitting, Bowen says “yes” to the creatures.

Two of her tigers came from a woman living in a condominium in Orlando but the woman wasn’t licensed to have the exotic cats.  Another tiger was once used by a photographer in portraits until he grew too big for the job.

Now there home is 10-by-24-foot cage which is larger than required by law.

“They're in jail for committing no crime,” Bowen says.

All of the smaller cages open into larger areas to give each of the animals a larger area to roam when their turn comes up. The large fenced yard gives them room to play with the assortment of “enrichment toys” provided for them.

Exercise for the big cats is sometimes provided by a buzzard or a dog getting too close to the cage or the fence line of the animal’s cage.  When either species invades the tiger’s space, the tigers are quick to give chase running the fence line of its cage.

Since coming to EARS, many of the animals have fattened up with their diet of 20 pounds of meat per day.

While guidelines suggest feeding the tigers and bears every other day, Bowen prefers a daily feeding.

“I don’t see any reason to have a bunch of hungry tigers around here,” she said.

Her partner for EARS, Jaye Perrett, takes on the task of keeping enough meat in the freezer to feed the menagerie daily. Currently, she only has 22 tigers on the grounds, less than she has had for years. Yet a tiger living in captivity has a life expectancy of 25 years.

Bowen’s interest in tigers goes back to the 1970s when she traveled in Nepal studying tigers and their habits. Once back in the states, she realized there was a need to for a sanctuary for exotic animals no longer wanted or abused.

“I followed a dreamed,” she says of opening EARS.

Visitors to the sanctuary can also see bears. As with the other animals in the sanctuary,  Bowen makes sure that each of the bears has toys to play with and a place to swim.

“The bears have a pool and I don’t,” she joked.

Even having their own toys, didn’t keep Cozy, one of the bears, from dismantling parts of his house by pulling down 2x6s last week and ignoring all the “no’s” shouted at him by Bowen during a recent tour of the sanctuary.

The public is allowed to tour the 35-acre sanctuary by becoming an EARS member. Memberships are available for $8.

On Saturday, May 14, Bowen is hosting a “Seniors Day” for members. On June 11 she is hosting a family day.

Members visiting are asked to bring a gallon of bleach. Bowen and the volunteers work hard to keep the cages clean for their animals. Using bleach in those efforts helps with the control of flies attracted to the raw meat fed to the animals.

EARS is at 1615 E. Hwy 318 in Citra, about 30 minutes from Ocala.

For more information about the non-profit, 501(c)3, organization and to arrange a visit call 595-2959 or see earsinc.net.