Have you ever wondered what’s up with that 2×4 barrel in front of the gift shop? That’s a 300-gallon oil drum! An animal was in this container; in that oil drum, we found Smitty, a male cougar.
In May of 1996, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge got a call from the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. We were told there was a tiger and a cougar left in 2 trailers. They were located in a small community just south of Harrison, Arkansas. Our team hurried over as soon as we could. Upon arrival, we realized that there were not just 2 cats. There were 10 big cats in 2 trailers plus the oil drum with Smitty.
We later found out to who these animals had once belonged. We had already rescued animals from her once before! Her name was Twiss. If you recognize that name, that’s because she was our first big rescue. She dropped off 3 cattle trailers full of big cats on the Jackson’s property back in 1991 and left them to run from the law. That’s how we came to be Turpentine Creek. Twiss was on the run again from the law. After she left Arkansas, she ran to Tennessee. Her old habits stayed with her because she was soon in trouble in Tennessee. She loaded Smitty up in his barrel as well as 10 other cats in those 2 trailers and drove them back to Arkansas.
She took them to a ranch just outside of Harrison and then left them there to try and pick up the rest of her 50+ cats located in Tennessee. A short trip turned into a long one. On this journey, she was arrested and put in jail. There were at least 4 weeks that went by where those animals were sitting and waiting for someone’s return. They were left with no one to take care of them. They did not have any food or water. Upon arrival to rescue them, they were extremely thin and dehydrated. One of the leopards didn’t make it and was dead upon our arrival. They were starving. One male lion ate 100 pounds of meat in a 24-hour time span!
Now with the animals, we rescue, we would typically try and introduce the smaller animals together like the bobcats, cougars, or servals. When we tried that with Smitty, it didn’t quite work out the best as he would start fights with every other cougar. So for the next 12 years, Smitty lived by himself, loved by all staff members, but content with just being adjacent to other cats.