Are you open to the public?
Tiger Haven is not a public facility in that we are not able to charge admission to show the cats. Public exhibition for a fee requires that we install barriers, public rest rooms and other facilities designed for human comfort.
Because of our physical location, we feel that the financial investment could never be recovered, and would be better spent on the cats themselves.
And, of course, we are not a zoo. We exist for the comfort and security of the cats, not for the entertainment of the public.
Are you required to have a license to keep big cats?
In Tennessee, you must possess a state issued license. We have a Class I license issued by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) that permits us to keep big cats. To obtain the license you must first have an approved facility, pass a written test, or have two or more years verifiable experience dealing with the species you intend to keep.
Who regulates Tiger Haven for safety?
We are regulated by the TWRA, whose regulations concerning public safety and animal welfare are among the best in the nation, if not the best.
We are in 100% compliance with the TWRA regulations, which include the requirements of 8 foot perimeter fences, 16 foot containment fences of 9 gauge chain link with a 4 foot overhang, double entries, and chained and locked gates.
What do you feed the cats?
Our cats are fed a diet of 70% beef chunks and 30% chicken leg quarters. We add a special mix of ingredients that we have developed that provides the nutrients needed by large feline carnivores. We also add a custom prepared vitamin mixture formulated by the University of Tennessee nutrition department.
In the past we have used the prepared feline carnivore diet that is used by most zoos. This diet consists of ground beef or horse, cooked chicken, blood meal, and filler (like old bread). It comes in five pound tubes and is very convenient to use - just open the tubes and put the right amount on the platter.
But we have found that our cats grow bigger and are much healthier with our diet. They like to chew their steaks, and it is better for their teeth.
The beef is shipped to us frozen, 40,000 pounds at a time, and it is stored in our walk-in freezer. At present, we feed over 2,000 pounds of food per day. The chicken is shipped to us 25,000 pounds at a time, and is stored in the freezer, also.
The cats fast one day each week because, in the wild, the cats are not lucky enough to make a kill every day. The fact is, they may go for several days without eating. Nature intended for them to do this, and it is healthier for them as it kind of "cleans out the system." On fast day, the cats get bones to gnaw on.
Where do you get the cats?
We have rescued cats from Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Oregon, Oklahoma, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Alabama, and Kansas. All the cats have come from captive situations. None were taken from the wild. We only take a cat when it is in danger or living in an unhealthy or neglectful situation. The cats are usually referred to us by regulatory agencies and other institutions such as the Humane Society, SPCA or local authorities.
Can't they all live together in one enclosure?
Lions are the only big cats that live in social groups. There have been recorded instances in the wild where two or three tigers stay together, but it was probably the mother and offspring.
If cats are raised together in captivity they can often stay together, unless they take a disliking to each other, or their territorial instincts demand that they drive the other cats away.
I have a way with animals. Can I pet one of the cats?
It is true that animals take to some people more than others, and those people "have a way with" the animals. But if you do not know the characteristics of a particular animal they may have their way with you.
One should never approach an animal they do not know - even a horse or dog - and especially a tiger. If an animal approaches you, or does not run when you approach, it is most likely because it does not fear you. That does not necessarily mean that it loves you or wants you to touch it, or even wants to be your friend.
Many times we are asked to let someone touch the cats, and they are offended when we must refuse. But Tennessee regulations regarding big cats prohibits the public from coming within four feet of any big cat.
Where can I get a cub?
Don't ask us. Our cats are here to stay. If you are qualified and experienced, you will already know.
Has there ever been an escape at Tiger Haven?
No. There has never been an instance where a big cat escaped from its enclosure at Tiger Haven.
Has anyone been hurt by one of the cats? No, other than the occasional cut or bruise to our keepers. No member of the public has ever been injured by any of our cats.
Aren't you afraid of them?
There is a difference between fear and a healthy respect for a tiger's capabilities, and we do respect them. From experience, we know the character of any cat we deal with and act accordingly. The important thing when handling big cats is not to put ourselves in an uncontrolled situation.
Fear is a reaction to the unknown. An attack dog's trainer does not fear him, but if it is growling at us we would be wise to be afraid of it.
How do you name the cats?
When a cat comes to Tiger Haven it usually has a name already and we do not like to change it, except in cases where we just cannot bring ourselves to call the cat by the name it came with.
Dandy Lion's name was "Elvis" when he came, so we changed it. He was young at the time. If we have the opportunity to name a cat, the name is usually derived from a state or province in the cat's native country.
How do you tell them apart?
Any cat's stripes or spots are unique to the individual. But more than that, each cat has a different facial expression, posture and voice, the same as any other animal, including humans.
Can't you send them back to the wild?
What wild? We do not wish to keep these majestic creatures captive either, but what is the alternative?
All the cats at Tiger Haven were born in captivity. Some are declawed. None would know how to hunt and would probably starve before they realized we were not bringing their food each day, if a poacher didn't get them first. The "wild" is a dangerous place for any animal.
Even if the cats could survive in the wild, if would be impossibly cost prohibitive for us to send them there.
Big cats in this country have been here for generations. At first, their immune systems were fragile, as they had not been exposed to the many viruses and diseases here that were not in their native country.
But through the generations, they have been vaccinated and developed immunities to these diseases. However, if they were to be released where they could expose cats to them in other countries, the native population could be wiped out in no time.
We know of only one instance where a tiger was successfully returned to the wild. In this, the "wild" was her back yard, and she grew up becoming familiar with her permanent territory.
Why don't you just let the zoos take them?
Reputable zoos serve a purpose in a society long removed from routinely seeing animals in the wild in that they allow us to see and appreciate them, and they educate us to the animals' needs and their purpose for being here.
Most major zoos are accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), and are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP is a method for the management of breeding a particular species, such as the Siberian tiger, in order to keep the bloodlines pure and diversify the gene pool to prevent genetic deficiencies.
The SSP keeps studbooks and detailed records on the parentage of animals in the program, and as such, may direct a zoo in Texas to breed its tiger with one in a zoo in Tennessee.
Although many zoos got their start long ago by taking pets that private owners could not keep, it would today be like asking a breeder of registered, purebred dogs to include a mongrel in his kennel.
Zoo visitors expect to see animals in perfect condition. So in fact, zoos also need a place for their big cats when they become too old and arthritic, or otherwise unsuitable for public display.
Are they tame?
A big cat is never tame in the same sense as horses or pets, but they do not generally have an inherent desire to hurt people, unless they have been given reason to. The difference is that the handlers are trained and experienced.
Handlers know the behaviors to look for and what to do under certain situations. It would require an entire volume to explain what years of experience have taught us.
How do they like the cold weather?
Tigers love cold weather. They are likely to fall asleep laying on a frozen pond. Of course, snow leopards also like cold weather, and cougars don't seem to mind. Lions, leopards and jaguars would just as soon stay warm.
Do they purr?
Cougars, which are in the same family as house cats, do purr. Lions, tigers and other big cats do not purr. The general rule of thumb is that if they can roar they cannot purr, and if they can purr they cannot roar.
Tigers, snow leopards and clouded leopards make a sound called "chuffing" by rumbling their throat and blowing air through their nostrils. It's similar to the sound we make when we clear our throat. Chuffing, in cat language, is used for greetings and apologies.
How many different species live at Tiger Haven?
All species of the great cats currently live at Tiger Haven, except for the cheetah.
Earlier in the twentieth century almost the entire cheetah population was decimated by disease. As a result, there are few left and those are extremely fragile as there are so few bloodlines.
It is rare that a cheetah would find itself in a situation where it needed to be rescued.
How long do they live?
Big cats can live up to twenty years in captivity, but the average is about sixteen to seventeen.
In the wild, they usually do not live more than seven years, as they do not have veterinarians to treat them, and trucks bringing their food.
What is the difference in a cougar, puma, mountain lion, catamount, and panther?
None. They all refer to the same cat. The different names are more likely to be used in different parts of the country.
Are there other places like Tiger Haven?
Yes, but only a few, although there are several places with the "sanctuary" tag on their name. But a true sanctuary offers a safe, permanent home. Those who offer homes to animals then sell or breed them are not like Tiger Haven.
Why Do You Want to Keep All These Cats?
It is not a question of "wanting" to keep 200+ big cats. Who in their right mind would desire all the hard work, worry and stress associated with a sanctuary operation such as Tiger Haven? Sure, we enjoy interacting with the cats, and we love them as you love one who trusts and depends upon you for their survival. Similar to the way you love your child, but still different.
How do you respond to those who feel that the cats would be better off dead than in captivity?
Everyone has a right to their own opinion, and it is usually based upon their own philosophy and beliefs. The facts are out there for all to see. We feel that destroying the cats is not an acceptable solution.
Some think of animals as simply beasts of burden, and those who cannot conceive of animals having feelings and emotions, will not change their minds until, and if, they have a profound experience involving an animal.
So I don't think anything I could say would change their mind set, so I have nothing to say to them.
If a Lion and a Tiger were in a fight who would win?
I really despise this question and only include it because it is asked so often. If I asked who would win a fight a man from Florida or a man from Tennessee, what would the answer be? All Lions and all Tigers are individuals and it would not be a question with a single answer. I would never want to witness such a event, and wonder about anyone who would.