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23 July 2007

JSU Field School Campers Visit Exotic Animal Park and Rescue Preserve

Reprinted here in its entirety.

The Cat's Meow

By Lisa Rogers
The Gadsden Times

Susan Steffens McCauley playfully interacts with a tiger Thursday, one of 18 at Tigers for Tomorrow. Photo: GADSDEN TIMES | ERIC T. WRIGHT

Tigers for Tomorrow Raising Funds, Roofs to House Exotic Animals

COLLINSVILLE - Lion and tiger cubs look cuddly when they are little, but they grow up. "They look cute at first, but then they grow and they can overrun your family home," said 12-year-old Nick Meadows, who visited this week Tigers for Tomorrow at Untamed Mountain as a camper with the Jacksonville State University Field School.

That's some of the information Meadows and others learned at Tigers for Tomorrow, a non-profit exotic animal park and rescue preserve home to more than 100 animals.

The cost of cubs and other wild animals has become less expensive and the animals have become more easily accessible through the Internet, said Susan Steffens McCauley of Tigers for Tomorrow. McCauley and her husband, Wilbur, relocated Tigers for Tomorrow from Florida to the former Bluegrass Farm Sanctuary. The 140-acre park is in DeKalb County near the border with Etowah County.

"Big cats are being overbred, which enabled the price to drop and enabled them to fall into the hands of the public," Susan McCauley said.

Many people who have gotten them do not understand the responsibility of big cats, she said.

"We wanted to provide the last stop for animals," she said.

Many of the tigers and lions at Tigers for Tomorrow have been obtained from smaller, for-profit roadside zoos and from individuals who could not properly take care of them.

The preserve is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children 3 to 12.

Groups such as the JSU Field School campers were able to get a tour and see the animals as Susan and Wilbur interacted with Furry, the 2-year-old African lion, and Kal-el, the 11-week-old African lion cub.

The group of 10- to 12-year-olds from the JSU camp also visited Little River Canyon and Global Village at Lineville.

Renee Morrison, the assistant director of the JSU Field School camp, said it's important for the campers to understand the mission of Tigers for Tomorrow.

"It's one thing to visit a zoo or watch the Discovery Channel, but here the kids can hear the personal stories of how these animals were rescued," Morrison said.

Morrison said Tigers for Tomorrow is working with JSU to establish an internship in which a student can get class credit and have some practical experience.

It is practical experience that has brought the McCauleys to where they are now.

Wilbur has worked at Wildlife Way Station and Out of Africa Wildlife Park, facilities similar to Tigers for Tomorrow. Susan worked in Florida and originally developed Tigers for Tomorrow there.

"We've been lucky enough to gain experience where we both either volunteered or worked," she said.

The couple live at the preserve but don't view the work as a job.

"It's not a job or a career, but a lifestyle," she said.

Tigers for Tomorrow relocated to Northeast Alabama last year after the facility in Florida was extensively damaged from a tornado and three hurricanes in just more than a year.

It's obvious that Wilbur and Susan are comfortable with the animals, yet they don't let down their guard.

For the JSU group, they were in the fenced area with Furry, an African lion. "Furry is my friend," Wilbur told them after he gingerly walked into a double-gated fenced area. "Do you know how I know? I'm still here talking to you."

But Furry is not a pet, Wilbur told them. He's a wild animal.

As Wilbur prepared to ease out of the fence, he asked the campers if anyone had questions.

"Does Furry know any tricks?" one camper asked.

"We do not train animals here," Wilbur explained.

The animals at Tigers for Tomorrow are wild.

"You can't tame it," Wilbur said of Furry. "They are wild by nature, and their wild instincts are still present."

The preserve now has the lion cub Kal-el because too many cubs were born at the same time at a wildlife entertainment facility in Texas.

Susan brought Kal-el out on a leash for the campers to get a closer look. She fed him a bottle of zoological formula made for big cats. Even though he is small and cute now, he will grow to between 500 and 600 pounds.

For a limited time, groups of one to five people can make an appointment for an interaction with Kal-el. The cost is $250, and the money raised will help with operating expenses at the park.

Kal-el will be at Tigers for Tomorrow for the rest of his life, along with all the other animals that have been rescued.

Rescued animals include those once used for education or side shows or those who had private owners and were confiscated.

Wilbur said he goes anywhere he is called to rescue an animal as long as the preserve can raise the money to house the animal.

"We won't do a rescue unless we know we can house them," he said.

All the fencing at the facility meets the United State Department of Agriculture regulations, he said.

The preserve has two paid employees and uses several volunteers, Wilbur said.

Volunteers do things such as work in housing areas.

"It's hard work," Wilbur said. "It's not playing with the animals."

A grant paid for a commissary where the food for the animals is mixed and stored, but donations are necessary for the funding of the remainder of the preserve, such as housing for additional animals.

One of the next projects is a pavilion to be used for groups such as the JSU Field School campers for crafts and educational classes. Now the groups meet on a picnic table underneath a tree. A building day for the pavilion is set for Saturday.

Anyone who would like to help build the pavilion or provide funding can contact the McCauleys at or call 524-4150.

Untamed Mountain is at 708 DeKalb County Road 345, just off Duck Springs Road.

See story at the Gadsden Times Web site.

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