Friday, March 21, 2014

Inside Florida's E.A.R.S. wildlife sanctuary

By Scott Fais , Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, March 20, 2014

You may expect to find bears living in the woods near the Ocala National Forest.
But just over the train tracks in Citra, around the corner from the white church awaits a real jungle.

Not far from the edge of the Ocala National Forest awaits a place where wild animals are protected from mankind. "This is a place that rescues, saves, enhances the life animals that have no place else to go,” explains Gail Bowen, the co-founder of the Endangered Animal Rescue Sanctuary (E.A.R.S.)
"When they bust them for drugs, they find the tigers and they confiscate the tigers,” Jaye Perrett, the president of E.A.R.S.

Jaye Perrett spent 32 years as deputy sheriff in Marion County, where she investigated animal cruelty cases. Today, she works tirelessly on behalf of the big cats who now call E.A.R.S. home. "Every morning, we turn the boys out..." Jaye says, motioning towards a fenced in yard where tigers can play.

EARS features more than 20 tigers, several lions, a few leopards and a handful of cougars, along with a "Liger." "The dad is a lion and the mom is a tiger,” Jaye explains of the cross breeding.

Yet here, no animal is bred, sold, traded or bartered. Instead, they are soaked. "We spray them with hoses. They love to submerge and soak," Gail says while filling up a bath for a tiger who immediately plops his nose into the soapy water.

Meantime, others are happy for a snack. "This is just a piece of red meat, Looks like it was probably beef at one time. And Norman knows what is going to happen."

Volunteer Sue Nassivera is a close friend with a tiger named "Norman." "You can do it lazy bones,” Sue says while asking Norman to stand on his hind legs. “You can see he is missing a lot of his bottom jaw. A lot of his teeth are missing,” Sue says of the tiger safely on the other side of a fence.
“You get it, Norman?" The 400 lbs. tiger manages to devour the beef just fine, while Sue, clad in a blue denim jacket with a tiger painted on the back smiles.

Also part of a tour here, bears who wandered into neighborhoods north of Orlando. "He and his mother are famous. He and his mother were robbing garbage,” Gail states proudly. "This is not our world. We live in it peacefully with the animals that are also created here,” she says.

Tours under the shady oak trees last about an hour. Visitors will not be able to touch the animals, but instead will get an education on animal care. "I want them to take the love we have for these animals in their hearts when they go,” Jaye concludes.

The E.A.R.S. Wildlife Sanctuary only open to day guests who make a reservation in advance.


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