With hearts as large as the task ahead, Gail and Jaye dedicate themselves to giving exotic animals in their care a home for life, and not just a roof and food. They work incredibly hard alongside a team of 40 EARS volunteers to source food and provide these animals with the best possible quality of life in quarters that are meticulously cleaned daily.
After checking in at the welcome area, the tour of the cages and runs of the big cats begin. Being able to walk right up to the cage of a magnificent male lion or a pair of gorgeous Bengal tigers is an incredible opportunity that cannot be replicated in other animal attractions and zoos. To be inches away from the yawning jaws and huge teeth of lions, tigers, ligers (lion/tiger cross) and beautiful white Bengal tigers is a true privilege. Behind the individual enclosures are several huge runs with old tree trunks and native Florida greenery where the big cats roam, play, doze, and sleep. Generally they seemed more interested on keeping one eye on Gail, walking nonchalantly over to rub against the fence and interact with her as she greeted them and talked about their background history.
At the time of my visit, the sanctuary was home to over 70 animals which included 23 tigers, 3 lions, one liger, several leopards, 7 Florida black bears, 2 cougars, 7 monkeys, one panther, 2 bobcats, several deer and a flock of scavenging buzzards! The animals at the sanctuary come from all sorts of backgrounds. Many of the tigers were used as cubs for photographic opportunities, but once they outgrow the cuddly stage, they are either euthanized, or the lucky ones find their way to the EARS Sanctuary. Other animals were unwanted pets, retired from animal shows or rescued from abusive situations.
When I finally dragged myself away from the sanctuary, I was totally overwhelmed at having spent two hours with such beautiful creatures. What made the visit even more special was spending time with the devoted and tireless owner, Gail, and some of her 40 crew of volunteers. Their hard work, gentle attitude and clear love of the animals at EARS was a true inspiration which it was a privilege to briefly come into contact with.
Private guided tours of the EARS sanctuary take two hours and at the end of it you will certainly know far more about each animal than you could ever learn elsewhere. The patience and friendliness of the staff and their willingness to answer questions and volunteer information is a credit to them all. I defy anyone not to visit EARS and leave with a deep desire to help in some small way with the ongoing work caring for these most deserving Florida residents.
Tours are by prior arrangement on any day of the week and cost $15. Book on the EARS website or call (407) 647-6328.
Checkout my latest collection of Favorite Days Out in Central Florida which were all suggested by residents of The Villages. Available from local bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and as a downloadable ebook.