|Tigers for Tomorrow on Untamed Mountain|
Lions, tigers and bears are not typical animals found in DeKalb County, but take a trip to Tigers for Tomorrow on Untamed Mountain near Collinsville and you will find a state-of-the-art wild animal park and rescue preserve.
Tigers for Tomorrow is home to over 100 animals including lions, tigers and bears, along with leopards, foxes, camels, zebras, turkeys, chickens, roosters, goats and many more animals. The facility is over 140 acres and opened in 2006 with the intent to provide a serene home for wild animals to live peacefully for the duration of their lives, as well as educate the public about their behavior and habitat.
"As a last stop preserve, the animals coming to live with us remain here for the rest of their lives," said Sue Steffens, executive director of Tigers for Tomorrow. "People have a misconception that we are a zoo. They don’t realize we are a facility preserving the species and providing them with dignity throughout the remainder of their lives."
Five years ago, Steffens organized Tigers for Tomorrow. Her two-part goal was to have a facility where rescued wild animals could spend their lives peacefully and educate the public. The name of the facility came from the idea that a donation today can save a tiger for tomorrow.
A hurricane destroyed a similar preserve where Steffens was working in South Florida, so she decided to move her animals and passion to a new location. She chose this area of Alabama because of the similar humid climate to South Florida and the lack of an educational facility for children and adults to actually see and learn about these wild animals.
Although they are wild animals, all the animals at the facility were not raised in their natural wild habitat. They have all been rescued from zoos, wildlife parks, circuses, fairs and even from residential homes where animals were being treated as domestic pets.
After animals are rescued, they are quarantined for a year. During that time, the staff administer shots, draw blood and get an idea of the animals’ overall health, intellect and emotions, and begin to have human interaction. Most of these animals will live in enclosures (sturdy chain-link fences covered on all sides) at the park larger than they have ever lived in, so it takes some time for them to become adjusted to their new home. Because most of the animals they rescue are older, they do a lot of preventative maintenance on the animals before allowing them to be viewed by the public. The turnover of animals at the park is about 10 years.
Tigers for Tomorrow rely on grants and donations to help pay the few salaried employees, care for the preserve and maintain their huge feeding bill for the animals. Each enclosure, where the animals live, costs a minimum of $10,000. All of the enclosures totaling 18 acres of the 140-acre site are surrounded by 10-foot-high chain link fences exceeding the USDA standard for containing wild animals. Safety of the animals and the public is of extreme importance at the park.
Steffens estimates they spend about $50,000 to $60,000 a year on food for the animals, with $10,000 spent just in hay. It takes their staff a full day to feed the preserve and to distribute the 700 pounds of meat fed to the animals daily.
Challenges are meeting budgetary needs, raising money to provide care for the animals and building new enclosures. Government funding for such an organization is not available; therefore financial support for the facility is based primarily on donations, grants and fundraising.
Their most popular fundraiser is the Guardian Angel program. This is an opportunity for patrons of Tigers for Tomorrow to provide the animals with a better life. When a patron becomes a Guardian Angel, they help to financially provide for the animals by supplying them with toys and helping with the cost of maintenance of enclosures, veterinary bills and the steep feeding budget each animal consumes. There are different levels of support to become a Guardian Angel ranging from $25 to $2,500.
The preserve is run mostly by volunteer staff who are passionately committed to the care of these wild animals. The majority of the employees and even visitors travel from three hours away including from the cities of Huntsville, Chattanooga, Birmingham and Rome, GA. The lack of local interest has been a surprising challenge for Tigers for Tomorrow, but plans are in place to create more local support by conducting mobile-outreach programs to schools and summer camps in the area.
Other plans for the future are to finish their wild bird enclosure area for rescued birds. Within the next three years, Steffens plans to have an outdoor theater and to host more public-events for children and adults. An educational and welcoming center is currently being constructed to greet large groups to the park, and plans are in place to make the area more handicap-accessible.
"We also want to make the preserve 90 percent sustainable and be a model for the community to learn to care about the environment and energy efficiency," Steffens said.
Alabama is one of the last states to have laws in place banning exotic cats in residential homes. Getting such laws in place is another one of Steffen’s to-do lists.
"People don’t understand you can’t take the instinct out of the animal," she said. "These animals are not domesticated."
Although their address is Attalla, in Etowah County, their physical location is about eight miles outside the Collinsville city limits. Whichever county wins the bragging rights for Tigers for Tomorrow, it is a top-notch operation taking care of rescued wild animals waiting for supporters to visit and learn more about them and their behavior.
Tigers for Tomorrow’s operating hours are Wednesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The admission fee for adults is $10 and for children ages three to 11 years-old is $5. Before planning a trip to Tigers for Tomorrow, check their informative website for updates and for information on group rates: www.tigersfortomorrow.org or call the park’s offices at (256) 524-4150.
Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.