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St. Augustine Shows Us Where the Wild Things Are

By David Boegaard

St. Augustine is one of America's most beautiful little cities, and its oldest. With enviable weather, a coastal location, a city-center that reflects the city's long and beautiful history, and a people who care for such beauty, St. Augustine is a deeply civilized place. But just outside the city there exists a place reserved for those wild things that humans have failed to tame.

For creatures whose nature cannot be made friendly to human aims, annihilation increasingly looms. But the St. Augustine Wild Reserve creates a home for animals who people have attempted to take as pets, and have discovered the hard way why they are considered wild. The Wild Reserve has space for animals to roam and engage with other animals, as well as opportunities for visitors to observe the animals. For the many animals who cannot become a part of the home of another, this is a home of their own.

The St. Augustine Wild Reserve was founded by Deborah Warrick in 1995. For more than 10 years prior to forming the Wild Reserve, Warrick had taken care of wolves, and had learned a great deal about caring for wild animals in the process. She had also learned about the size of the problem that exotic animals posed, and the tragedy that befell these animals when their owners discovered they would not make good pets, after all. Warrick recognized the need was great and extended beyond wolves. "It is important to have rescue centers for exotic animals, otherwise many of them would be euthanized by wildlife officials," she says. To this day, Warrick continues to expand her knowledge about animals by pursuing a Master Degree in Veterinary Forensics, an addition to her already obtained Bachelors in Biology.

Once the Wild Reserve was founded, their mission quickly expanded. Today, the Wild Reserve still makes the care of the animals their central concern, but has also made the education of visitors central to their mission.

With regular, two-hour tours of the facility, and many different species of large mammals and other animals, visitors can expect an experience without equal. "Visitors will be allowed to be approximately 10 feet from the gorgeous eyes of a tiger, lion, leopard, bear, etc," says Warrick.

And if such an immersive experience isn't enough for visitors, some visits will have surprises. Though the Wild Reserve does not breed any of its animals, they will occasionally receive infant animals. These are the only times that a visitor might be able to touch an animal, but they are extraordinary even in such an extraordinary place.

But even among the adult animals, many delights await visitors. For the enjoyment of the tigers and visitors alike, the Wild Reserve has a special treat in the tiger bath. "Tigers enjoy water, and spend a lot of their time in their bath," says Warrick. "I discovered that to add bubble bath, not only is it enriching for the tiger to play in the bubbles, it keeps the tiger smelling nice and clean, which deters flies."

Getting such a close view of wild animals can be quite transformative for visitors, and that is one of the central missions of the Wild Reserve. "Visitors will learn from where these animals originated, where their natural habitat is found, and how they can help in protecting wild species," says Warrick.

Not only does the Wild Reserve want to stress that these animals are absolutely not good pets, but also that their wild kin are in deep danger of extinguishment from the world forever. "For example, unless individuals stop purchasing ivory trinkets, elephants will be gone," Warrick notes sadly. "Unless the market in tiger bone, and now lion bone, wine stops, there will not be any of these species left in the next several years." By allowing visitors to experience these magnificent creatures in the flesh, up close, they often form a kind of bond that leads to a real dedication to preservation.

And ultimately, this is the central point. Warrick's incredible work has led to a good life for many captive-born wild animals who were mistakenly taken as pets. But she can only do so much, and there is so much to do.

One way that visitors and supporters can help is by contributing a tax-deductible donation to the St. Augustine Wild Reserve. "Since it is very expensive to care for lions, tigers, etc., we rely on the public to donate funds so that we can continue to take in rescued animals," says Warrick. "We are not state funded or city funded; we do not receive grants."

Truly, the St. Augustine Wild Reserve is a labor of love and devotion. But it is a love shared by all the visitors and volunteers that contribute to make such a place possible, and by all of the animals who have found a home at the Reserve. Our goal is to heal exotic animals who have been abused, and provide a loving home for them with the best nutrition available. This is the last stop for these animals, and we make sure that they will be healthy and content throughout the rest of their lives.

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