Story and photos by Joel Ryerson
July 31, 2009 (Alpine)--"Look how close you are!" exclaimed Lynn Hopewell, a guest of the overnight event at Lions, Tigers, and Bears in Alpine. "When I was up in Las Vegas I saw the cats at the MGM Grand, but this is a totally different experience," added Hopewell, who was amazed at how close you could get to the big cats.
The occasion was a campout last weekend to help raise funds for exotic animals at East County’s big-cat rescue facility. About thirty five guests attended the event, which included a rustic barbecue dinner prepared by the crew. Guests brought their own tents and set them up in a grassy area right next to the Big Cat enclosures. Guests were free to roam around the area and check out the variety of wild cats in the enclosures, which included tigers, lions, bobcats, mountain lions, leopards, and more.
The organization's mission is to provide a safe place for rescued big cats and raise awareness to the public about the abandonment and neglect of exotic animals. Bobbi Brink, the founder of Lions, Tigers, and Bears, spoke about the oppression and dangers her wild cats faced before they were rescued.
Raja and Natasha are two of the tigers that were rescued by Brink. They were pets in Texas before they were rescued. For five years, the two tigers shared a six-foot by 12-foot cage with no shelter and no shade in the hot Texas sun. Brink also spoke about the dangers of exotic animal trading, which she mentioned is second to drugs and weapons in the United States.
"Many people breed these cats for their coats, bones, and body parts," she said. Brink seems determined to do anything she can to help eliminate this unpleasant business.She devotes her entire day to taking care of all the animals she has rescued.
Among the many things guests get to experience is feeding time. Feeding the cats is no simple task for Brink and her crew. Once hunger sets in and the cats realize its feeding time, their instincts take over and anything can happen. The crew, being extra careful, bravely finishes the task at hand. The cats are, after all, wild and can never be domesticated. That doesn't stop Brink and her devoted volunteers from caring for these animals each and everyday.
Upcoming attractions planned include a bird exhibit and a mountain Lion conservation station that Brink hopes will raise more awareness about the local animals that inhabit east county and the surrounding areas.
Lions, Tigers, and Bears is truly a one of a kind experience for guests of all ages. For more information or to make a donation to Lions, Tigers, and Bears, visit http://www.lionstigersandbears.org.
Joel Ryerson is a communications major at San Diego State University and an intern with East County Magazine.