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On a day that included the rescue of cougars, leopards, and wolf hybrids from an unaccredited roadside zoo, a day that saw responders carry a tranquilized tiger out of his cage on a stretcher, the animal Adam Parascandola most recalls was much smaller: a lone macaque monkey, living in an empty enclosure.
“Just dirt and bars,” remembers Parascandola, director of animal cruelty investigations at The HSUS. “There was absolutely nothing in there for him to do. … [It] seemed to be a very bleak existence for him. So for me, getting him out of that situation and into a better situation was one of the real highlights.”
In late January, The HSUS helped rescue three tigers, two cougars, two leopards, two wolf hybrids, and the macaque from Mississippi’s Collins Zoo. The operation stemmed from a 2009 HSUS undercover investigation that revealed inadequate care and housing for the animals and dangerously few safety measures for the visiting public.
For responders typically charged with removing suffering and neglected animals from puppy mills, hoarders, and dogfighting operations, this was an unusual rescue. And they certainly had help. The state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks served the search and seizure warrant, and Jackson Zoo officials tranquilized the big cats and macaque with dart guns. Responders then carried the sedated animals to transport cages, where they were evaluated by veterinarians, who noted broken teeth, weight issues, and minor eye problems.
At one point, a tranquilized tiger lifted his head, sending staff scurrying.
While it was gratifying to help, HSUS senior field responder Rowdy Shaw acknowledges that the situation was intimidating.
“Beautiful as they are, these are still wild animals. … It was really interesting to kind of be on that side of it for once. Where, instead of petting a little tiny cat, or holding a little puppy, or saving something like that, you’re sitting there with a 600-pound Bengal tiger. It’s a lot to take in.” While the rescue teams toted tigers and lifted leopards, some seven hours away in Murchison, Texas, staff at The HSUS’s Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch had been preparing for this day since before Thanksgiving, designing and installing several multipurpose, 24-by-36-foot enclosures.
The two female tigers took quickly to their new surroundings, which feature grassy yards, large dens, and logs for scratching. They rubbed against plants and pounced on the logs, notes Black Beauty director Ben Callison. The male, though, stayed in his den for about a week: “He needed to relax, and that was something he’d never had in his life. So we just absolutely gave him that time for a little R and R.”
In the days and weeks that followed, Black Beauty staff began providing additional enrichment, putting scents like deer or rabbit urine in cardboard boxes filled with natural fibers, giving them large Boomer Balls to play with, and hiding food in different spots. In a particularly encouraging sign, the tigers have begun to greet staff members with a friendly chuff, a mix between a growl and a purr—a sign of trust, acceptance, and passiveness.
“I remember when we were at the zoo, they were very aggressive, because there was so much going on, and they were so scared,” says Noelle Almrud, primate and exotic department lead at Black Beauty. “So for them to do that shows that they trust us. Especially considering the life that they came from, it’s pretty remarkable that they can forgive humans so easily.”
The wolf hybrids also came to stay in a new enclosure at Black Beauty, while Carolina Tiger Rescue took in two leopards and a cougar, and Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Texas took in another cougar.
As for the next time Parascandola saw that macaque? The image came via an email from the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, showing a happy face munching on a large leaf of lettuce. Sanctuary director Tim Ajax says the effects of his previous life are still apparent—the spinning, the self-biting—but he’s eating better, he’s taken an interest in a nearby female, and he’s learning to play with the toys that staff provide. Just recently, in fact, they observed him lying on his back, playing with a rope toy with his feet, and a toy dragon with his hands and mouth.