Nestled just two hours east of Lake County, Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion, Indiana, offers a permanent home to nearly 100 exotic animals.
The sanctuary is home to nine tigers and six black bears, as well as dozens of other animals that were born in captivity and products of the exotic animal trade, said Lori Gagen, executive of the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary.
The sanctuary was first opened to the public in 1995 and moved to its new, larger home in 2006. It is regularly opened to the public for guided tours.
Not only does Black Pine provide a permanent home to animals who were rescued displaced from their previous homes, it also educates people about responsible pet ownership, Gagen said.
The exotic pet trade is a $10 billion a year industry in the United States, Gagen said, and the animals get poached, smuggled and auctioned off as pets.
“A large number of those animals wind up growing too large, too dangerous or too expensive to be kept and are surrendered or confiscated and moved to sanctuaries like Black Pine,” she said. “In addition to giving these animals safe and permanent refuge, we aim to help educate the public about the plight of these animals, the overpopulation of captive exotics and the lack of laws to protect both the animals and their welfare, as well as public safety.”
In addition to the tigers and bears, visitors can expect to see leopards, lions, cougars, wolves, monkeys and reptiles.
“(We) require all visitors respect (our) rules that exist to help ensure the animals remain comfortable, relaxed and content,” she said. Teasing the animals, loud voices, or running are not permitted inside the sanctuary.
“These efforts help create a calm atmosphere that enhances the opportunity to see rare and endangered species up close, yet safely.”
The sanctuary is continually expanding, Gagen said. They are currently raising funds to complete construction for a permanent tiger habitat for four captive-raised tigers who were rescued in October. They also planning to build a new outdoor yard and pool for an alligator that was rescued from a bathtub in a Bloomington, Indiana, fraternity house.
In the future, they would like to construct a multi-purpose building to offer snacks and give visitor orientations. They also would like to build a building dedicated to caring for the facility’s parrots.
The sanctuary is run by two full-time and one part-time employee, as well as 55 volunteers and unpaid interns, Gagen said. The sanctuary holds a variety of special events that help provide the funding needed to support their non-profit mission, she said.
Gagen said she wants people to come to the sanctuary not only to enjoy seeing the beautiful animals, but also to learn more about why keeping them as pets is not a good idea.
“We want to make people aware of the epidemic that exists uniquely in America for people to keep non-domestic animals in their homes, back yards, and in other unnatural settings,” she said. “Those actions have effects on wild populations, public safety and on the animals themselves. We want the stories we can share to plant a seed of awareness in people to care, to act and to help stop the epidemic.”