You guys know I’m 100% a cat lady, so when I was offered the opportunity to visit a big cat sanctuary, I was all over it! Bring me all the kitties, please!
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs is different from most attractions in that they wish they didn’t have to exist. This animal sanctuary takes in big cats whose owners pass away or realize they’re not equipped to care for them, or from other exhibits that close down. Unlike the animals in some attractions, these cats aren’t being taken away from their natural habitats or being bred for exhibition, they’re being rescued from unsafe situations and being given a forever home.
Every animal’s story is different, and their enclosures are equipped with signs that fill you in on their background.
Although Turpentine Creek focuses on big cats, to quote one of the tour guides, “We’ve recently branched out into bears.” (No idea why, but that phrase tickled me.)
They’re working on new enclosures for the black bears that will have trees in the center that they can climb so that they can get their climbing fix without being able to get over the fences. The grizzly bear already has a pretty fancy place to live, complete with his own pool and waterfall to cool off in, since grizzlies are not built for warmer temperatures!
Um, can I live here?
Thinkin’ about Bear Stuff
Speaking of the enclosures, I want to mention up front that I didn’t manage to capture how nicely designed they were in my photos. (Let’s be honest, I was mostly thinking, “Ooooh, kitty!”) Each area is well thought out with plenty of space to roam around, and features that mimic what they’d play with or relax on in a natural habitat. Due to how much it costs to build a new enclosure, they do sometimes wind up needing to do a switch-out process where, to use an apartment metaphor example, two male tigers get the big fancy penthouse-style space today, then tomorrow they go into a smaller studio-style area and the two females get the big space. Given that just before my visit they’d taken in 30+ animals from an animal attraction in Colorado that had been shut down, it seemed like a pretty solid way to accommodate the new arrivals until resources are available to give everyone their own fancy place. They avoid mixing animals that didn’t grow up together to avoid scary hierarchy fights, so they won’t just add a new cat to a pair that already lives together.
I took a Google Maps screenshot that hopefully provides a better idea of how much space the big cats get to run around in. There are a few cars at the top of the pic for scale, and you can see the grey fence outlines throughout.
(I come from a Disney World background, where we build entire African-style savannas as animal environments, so my standards are pretty high. These guys obviously aren’t working with Disney’s budget, but they do a great job of providing happy, comfortable homes for the animals they rescue.)
Also, I did my best to minimize the fencing in photos, but it’s worth noting that there are two pretty serious fences between guests and animals. It creates a nice “in-betweeen” zone that ensures nobody can throw something into their environment, or anything else along the “well, that was really dumb” line of guest behaviors.
As a cat lady, this place is totally up my alley. (alley cat?) For instance, I finally got to learn…
Every time I watch big cats, (especially tigers) I’m struck by how similar their behavior is to my little guys. These two young tigers giving each other baths is 100% like what happens at my house on the daily:
Let’s backtrack a little bit to give you a better idea of how a visit to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Sanctuary goes!
The sanctuary is a short drive outside of historic downtown Eureka Springs, about 15 minutes. There’s plenty of parking (big difference from downtown!). Tickets are regularly $25 for adults, $20 for teens, $15 for kids, seniors and veterans and under 3 is free, but you can sometimes find discounts on sites like Groupon.
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge tickets include a guided tour that lasts around 45 minutes, plus the freedom to wander around part of the sanctuary (see below) as much as you’d like. They offer a trolley tour for an extra $5 if you’d prefer not to walk, but the trolley option is complimentary for guests with mobility disabilities. There is a lot of stopping to listen to the guide speak on the walking tour, so as long as you’re comfortable walking about half a mile very slowly, you’re likely to be ok. (I always try to include info that will help people determine if they can handle the physical aspects of an attraction, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!)
This map is from Turpentine Creek’s site, which has a page where you can check out their brochures and maps! It’s a great resource if you’re considering visiting.
After purchasing your tickets, you’re given a time and place to meet for the guided tour. Until then, you’re free to wander the area marked with a black line above. I think I had around 20 minutes before my tour time, which felt like plenty of time to explore that area. It’s worth noting that the exhibits you see along the red line on the map are only accessible while on the tour. (I’m guessing this is for safety reasons? It would probably take a lot of resources to monitor guests and ensure safety if you were free to explore the whole sanctuary on your own. It’s big!)
I spent a lot of my pre-tour time watching this guy take a bath. 😍
I didn’t get a very good pic of this kitty, but I loved him because he’s basically a slightly larger version of my Bear.
A better pic from the Turpentine Creek website:
And my own Bear, whose vet has said that he looks just like a panther he used to treat.
Very fierce, much terrifying.
My tour guide patiently put up with all of my crazy cat lady questions (“Hey, do tigers get hairballs?”), and gave us a ton of info about the animals. I think the tigers were my favorite because like the wild creatures they are, when we would divert our attention from them to listen to the tour guide talk, they’d take our distraction as the opportunity to stalk us.
Kitty invites you to (be) dinner.
One of the white tigers spent several minutes sloooowly creeping up on us, which was super fun to watch. It started way up the hill and gradually made its way down. Our tour guide did what’s lovingly known as a “butt dance” – apparently tigers look for animals that are distracted by eating or drinking water, aka a head down position, to sneak up on. That went a little like this:
Well… that worked!
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge offers an option where you can stay in lodges, bungalows, or tents at the sanctuary. The lodges are styled to look like a safari lodge you’d stay in while visiting Africa, which I dig since I’m a sucker for pretty much any kind of theme suite. What’s really cool about these rooms, though, is that you’re able to hear the cats roaring at night! Definitely on my list of places I’d like to stay on a future Eureka Springs visit.
I’d definitely recommend adding Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge to your trip plans if you’ll be visiting Eureka Springs or Northwest Arkansas in general! You can learn more about them on their website, or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I mean, be honest… your life needs more cat videos in it.
I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have about planning a trip or anything else about my visit that I didn’t cover!
I received complimentary admission to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in exchange for sharing my experience. No other compensation was received, and everything above is my honest opinion.