History of TCWR

Many wonder about the story behind Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and how it was formed. Back in 1978, Don, Hilda, […]

Many wonder about the story behind Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and how it was formed. Back in 1978, Don, Hilda, and Tanya Jackson lived in Hughes Spring, Texas. That is when they rescued their first big cat, Bum an 8-month-old lion cub. Bum’s previous owner owed money to one of Don’s friends. Instead of paying him in cash, the previous owner chained the cub to a Sweet Gum tree, abandoning it in a parking lot of a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. Don’s friend took the cub home and realized he couldn’t care for it properly, so the Jackson family offered to take it. Tanya, our President, was only 11 years old at the time of the first rescue.

In 1982, the Jacksons rescued another lion cub named Sheila. Taking care of these two lions was not easy; a male lion can weigh up to 420 pounds and eat 10 to 25 pounds of meat a day. Soon after, they moved down to south Arkansas in the town of Hope. They lived there for a few years until the early 90s.

Twiss Rescue

In December of 1991, a lady by the name of Catherine Gorden Twiss showed up on their doorstep with 42 cats in 3 cattle trailers. Twiss was a notorious breeder and black market dealer who was on the run from law enforcement. She was desperate to find a place for her cats. Overnight, the Jackson family was responsible for 44 cats in total. They moved to a ranch that their friend owned just south of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. This ranch would eventually evolve into the refuge that we know and love today.

A few years later, Twiss decided to come back to the Jackson family and moved all of her 70 cats and 30 horses to Turpentine. The word began to spread that there was a family taking these big cats and the Jackson family started receiving calls. This made the Jackson family drop everything to start the business of rescuing these big cats. They decided to sell everything, buy the ranch from their friend, and officially move to Eureka Springs.

TCWR started growing so exponentially, that in 1996, a highly competitive intern program took off. We were able to double our rescue efforts and establish a strong education base for our visitors.


In 2014, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge reached a verified status with the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), and in 2016 we became accredited. All their hard work paid off. This accreditation indicates to the world that TCWR is a sanctuary that holds the highest standards of animal care and safety for the animals, workers, volunteers, and visitors.

Today we are able to go on rescues to provide a lifetime home for big cats that have been abused and neglected. TCWR prioritizes tigers, lions, leopards, and cougars, but we also rescue a variety of other animals like servals, brown bears, black bears, and bobcats. We strive to save these animals through educating the public on how to end the Exotic Animal Trade. We are committed to preserving these wild animals and giving them the compassion that they need and deserve. There is hope for sanctuaries, like us, to no longer be necessary.

What can you do?

Visit https://www.turpentinecreek.org/advocacy/ and learn what we are doing to protect the futures of these animals. Our main focus right now is to pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act. There is a link on that page that you can go to and contact your congressman in order to help us achieve our goals. All you got to do is put in your information and send it in.

Also, make it a goal to only visit true sanctuaries and true zoos. These true sanctuaries are GFAS accredited like us and true zoos are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Do not be afraid to research the facilities you are wanting to visit. We want people to know that they are allowed to ask other facilities questions before visiting so you know where you are visiting.

If you follow this link, https://www.sanctuaryfederation.org/, it will take you to a website that gives you a list and a map of all the verified and accredited facilities out there.

Also, learn more about the different rescues that we have been on. Visit: https://www.turpentinecreek.org/rescues/.

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