An enriching experience — Life at Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary

An enriching experience — Life at Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary

An enriching experience — Life at Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary

Safe Haven’s tigers don’t roll over on command. The bears don’t ride unicycles. The lions don’t walk on balance beams for the amusement of roaring crowds. If anyone roars it will be Tangassi or Rose, the Safe Haven lions.

If you attend Safe Haven’s annual fundraiser say hello to Capone, Clarence, Sundara, Caroline, Aashavaan and Khan. They are the wildlife sanctuary’s resident tigers. Like Tangassi and Rose, they will be watching you. 

Due to concerns about the coronavirus, Safe Haven’s 15th annual fundraiser will be held outdoors at the sanctuary. It takes place on Saturday, May 7. Attendance is limited to 200 people. At press time, about 12 tickets are still available.

“A behind-the-scenes tour is included but not feedings as it would cause stress with such a large group,” says shelter director Lynda Sugasa. She and her husband Dave founded Safe Haven in 2000 in Illinois. They relocated to Imlay, NV, in 2006.

Besides the big cats, Safe Haven shelters an assortment of bobcats, lynxes, cougars, coyotes, foxes, black bears, servals, caracals, desert tortoises, a cheetah, macaws and parrots.
Safe Haven provides lifelong care to animals who cannot live in the wild.

For example, Clarence, an 18 year old white Bengal tiger, wouldn’t last long in what’s left of the forest. Like all white tigers, he’s cross-eyed. His affliction is severe enough that he doesn’t see much at all. Due to dental issues his food can’t contain any bones.

Sundara, a three-year-old Bengal tiger, also inherited strabismus from her father, a white tiger. She’s so cross-eyed the entertainment industry deemed her untrainable. 

Aashavaan, a seven-year-old white tiger is so cross-eyed he initially hissed and ran away from the Austrian pine trees in his enclosure.

It’s collateral damage in the breeder’s pursuit of a white tiger cub.

Safe Haven’s coyotes are the exception to the rule. Annabelle, Marabelle, Wiley and Isabelle could probably survive on their own. However, the State of Nevada does not allow the rehabilitation and release of coyotes. 

So, if they don’t roll over on command or walk on balance beams what do Safe Haven’s lions and tigers do all day? The people who attend the annual fundraiser will see for themselves.

Wild animals have complex behavioral needs. One of the most basic is the need to hunt and stalk prey.  These behaviors are fundamental to the animal’s welfare. Safe Haven encourages their expression. 

“We will be doing some enrichment,” says Sugasa. “Enrichment encourages natural behavior as expressed in the wild, prevents boredom and stereotypical behaviors like pacing and self-mutilation.”

Maybe the guests will watch Clarence play with his Tipsy Tom, a cone-shaped toy that moves unpredictably like prey. Tangassi loves pinatas, especially ones that smell like gardenias. He also hunts a burlap bag filled with scented straw. Sundara goes for meat-stuffed pumpkin.

Enrichment comes in many forms. At Safe Haven, it’s everywhere you look, all over the 320 acres. The big cats live in 10,000 square feet enclosures with insulated dens and climbing platforms. Tigers love to be up high. Khan climbs to the top level of the platform to catch a cool breeze or check out his neighbors.

Aashavaan prefers multiple lower platform players, perhaps because of his failing eyesight.Those Austrian pine trees that scared him, provide shade. The tigers and bears have 25 X 30 feet in-ground swimming pools in their habitats. Capone will take his first-ever swim this summer. 

The animals spend their days in a comfortable and stimulating environment with minimal human interference. 

Safe Haven is strictly no-contact. All the animals are lockout trained and eat in their lockouts daily. This helps the staff contain the animals for vet visits or wildfire emergencies. After they finish eating they are allowed back into their enclosures. If they want to, they’ll go for a swim.