Sanctuary rescues exotic pets

A guest at Lions, Tigers and Bears enjoys a snack
Photo: Bobbi Brink.

By Mimi Pollack

Mimi Pollack

ALPINE, California — Wild animals should not be behind cages! That might be your first impression when you see the pictures from Lions, Tigers, and Bears, an animal sanctuary here.

However, did you know that there are more tigers born in captivity than there are in the wild? Did you know that it is legal in some states for people to own certain wild animals as pets? Some wild cats are sold as cubs over the internet to people who have no business buying them.

This is where Bobbi Brink comes in. She has made it her life’s mission to save big cats. Although, her animals at Lions, Tigers, and Bears might be behind cages, they are all animals she rescued and they have a good life with land to roam on and many dedicated volunteers who help Brink care for them.

I visited here for an early Thanksgiving celebration at which the magnificent cats were fed packaged turkeys as their prey. The animals’ natural behaviors and instincts are encouraged to keep them active and healthy.

Lions, Tigers and Bears is one of only twelve accredited Big Cat and Bear sanctuaries in the United States. It was founded in 2002 by Bobbi Brink as a no- kill, federally and state licensed animal sanctuary. It started as a sanctuary for big cats, but has since grown to include three African lions, four Bengal tigers, one leopard, one African serval, three bobcats, a mountain lion, and five black bears. The 93-acre ranch is located in the Japatul Valley. The property includes one of California’s oldest adobes, built in 1866, and it served as a stagecoach stop.

Brink grew up in San Diego, but in the early 1990’s moved to Texas to open up a restaurant. An avid animal lover who had been around ranch animals all her life, she witnessed the horrific treatment that captive, exotic Big Cats experienced in Texas. She decided to get involved and began working with the animals. She did this for 10 years and earned her exotic animal handling license in 2000, before returning to San Diego to open her own facility.

Brink  and Tippi Hedren, founder of Shambala [another wonderful animal sanctuary], work together to further protect exotic cats. In September, they went to lobby in Washington, D.C. where they met with members of Congress regarding HR 4122-The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act. This bill would outlaw private ownership and breeding of exotic cats in the United States.

Lions, Tigers and Bears wants to educate, and in addition to the wild animals listed above, it also cares for assorted ranch animals, including chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, cows, a miniature donkey, a miniature horse,  two horses, a potbellied pig, and two llamas. They are all part of the hands-on, educational “Animal Encounters” that teaches humane treatment of all animals.

All this takes money, and this non-profit animal shelter relies on donations and sponsors. Membership starts at $50 and up, and it entitles you to free, scheduled visits on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, along with all the latest newsletters. You can also bring a friend for $25 which is much less than other sanctuaries charge.

Although I was more interested in the lions and tigers, their newest star attraction is Meatball, the Glendale bear. They are in the process of raising money to build a new and larger enclosure for him. There will be a holiday party on December 8th from 1:00 to 4:00 to raise money for the facility. They will have special vendors there as well as delicious food. Also, they are looking for volunteers to help in many capacities. Please check out their website at

Finally, as I was wandering around the small, but very nice gift shop, I met Tomcat, one of the resident, domesticated cats. He was a feral cat that Brink adopted. He is now the official greeter of the place, rubbing up against you and meowing at you, so you will pay attention to him. He is a good reminder of why exotic cats are not pets and if you want a feline in your life, stick to ones like Tomcat or “adopt” one from Lions, Tigers and Bears, and help Brink continue with her mitzvah.

Pollack is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  She may be contacted at [email protected]



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4 Responses to “Sanctuary rescues exotic pets”

  1. Eugenia Kuttler says:

    Very interesting article. Great labor! I’m glad you added the word “mitzvah” & made it kosher! I do hope people support the pace.

    • vivian says:

      loved hearing about the ranch
      i’ve been wanting to visit but somehow they weren’t open when i tried but will make the effort to try again. a very noteworthy project.
      good article, thanks so much, looking forward to visiting.
      When i couldn’t visit this animal refuge, i went to the wolf center, and lean red to appreciate what others make their life’s mission.
      good job Mimi

  2. Cuong Nguyen says:

    Great article Mimi,
    Your article is interesting and very accessible for ESL readers like me :D.
    I agree with you that wild animals should belong to the wild and should not be held behind cages.

  3. Miss Holloway says:

    Thank you for the article on Lions, Tigers and Bears. They do such great things for the animals. I don’t think enough San Diegans know about Bobbi and her dedication to these creatures whom she saved from certain death.


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