Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!

By Abigail Wilt

Twenty-five years ago, the rules and regulations against owning exotic animals like tigers and lions in your home were much more relaxed. So, some folks actually tried to raise the animals as pets.

This is example is only one story of how big cats end up at Tigers For Tomorrow in Attalla, Alabama. Other animals that call Tigers For Tomorrow home came from zoos, wildlife parks, circuses, sideshows, and facilities that have been shut down for not caring for their animals properly. The preserve – on the aptly named "Untamed Mountain" – is a last-stop resting place for these animals, meaning that the crew in Northern Alabama aims to make these animals as comfortable as possible as they live out the rest of their lives. But, you won't just find big cats in Attalla. Tigers For Tomorrow has over 175 animals on their property – including mountain lions, bears, wolves, and black leopards. It's pretty remarkable.

Although the non-profit leads tours around their 140+ acre property, the focus of the organization is, first and foremost, protecting the animals. And, as President and Director of Animal Care Wilbur McCauley described to us, educating the public is key. One of his main focuses is to disarm the negative sentiments people have around animals in captivity. There's a bigger picture, he explains; you have to look a little deeper. Most of these animals have lived out three or four generations in captivity, he explained as we walked around the property. They wouldn't survive if released into the wild. You can tell by his interactions with the animals – as he greets the lions by their names and "chuffs" with the tigers – that they're happy in their enclosures.

McCauley compared these animals in captivity to growing up in a house with no access to the outside world. If all of your needs are met – emotional, physical, intellectual, medical, and nutritional – as those of the animals are, you'd be happy in your home. If you spent ten years in your safe place and then someone dropped you in the middle of Times Square in New York City – you'd probably have a bad day.

"Animals are not mean in nature," McCauley told us. When animals are portrayed negatively, we need to look at the situation at hand. Likely, we'd react the same way. "If we remove fear, we find that the animals work on the same basis of respect that we do in our own communities, and they want the same things we do in life: dignity, love, and respect." When you meet the animals at Tigers For Tomorrow, you'll see beautiful creatures who enjoy their lives. Tigers kick balls around, wolves are playing together, and a grizzly bear rolls around with his feet in his front paws. And, that's the goal–to break the stereotype that animals in captivity are treated poorly.

With the mission of bridging this gap between humans and animals, and educating the public, Tigers For Tomorrow is truly a remarkable organization that the South has to offer. As is stated on their website: "Our residents help us to achieve this goal by acting as ambassadors of their species, helping us to educate students of all ages that we really are not all that much different, and if we cannot care for and save the animals of our planet how will we save the human race?"

Tigers For Tomorrow at Untamed Mountain is open for public and private tours, educational outings, and even corporate events through the year. General admission is $15 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 3-11. Children under 3 are free.