Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Illegal Pet Trade

The International Exotic Animal Sanctuary is a permanent home, a place of refuge, for our exotic animals. A majority of these animals have been abused, abandoned, neglected, confiscated, or previously owned by individuals unwilling or unable to provide for these animals. Fortunately, these animals are lucky to have a happy ending at IEAS where they are well fed and properly cared for. However, that is not the case for many exotic animals.

Shauna, our 23-year-old lioness, was once an illegal pet living in a backyard of a suburban home.

In the United States, regulation of private ownership of exotic animals, including felines, wolves, bears, reptiles, and non-human primates, is determined by each state. This allows for loopholes and oversight when owning exotics. In Texas, owners must obtain a license to possess an exotic animal. While breeding, selling and transporting exotic animals is technically legal on a federal level, many of the animals are brought to the U.S. illegally. Every year, thousands of animals are entering the exotic pet trade. These animals are often captured from their native habitat and smuggled in or legally imported.

Sunshine was bought from a safari park in Springfield, MO. His owner was in violation of the law and Sunshine was confiscated.   
Wildlife trafficking is estimated to be a $19 billion per year global business, which is just behind illegal trafficking of drugs, humans, and firearms. This is a huge problem with little consequences. If a person is caught illegally transporting animals into the United States on a first offense, it is possible that their consequence won’t result in jail time. On the contrary, if that same person was caught illegally transporting drugs into the country, on their first offense they may get a maximum of 40 years.

Prince and Princess were found in a puppy mill. We believe they were trying to illegally breed them for the illegal wildlife trade.
The illegal wildlife trade is quickly escalating into a crisis that is directly threatening the survival of many species in the wild, including but not limited to, tigers, leopards, and elephants. At this point, you may be wondering what you can do to help! Get involved! You could start locally at the IEAS by volunteering or donating to help provide a better life for our animals. There are also many other organizations whose focus is to help save endangered animals and put a stop to this illegal trafficking, including Stop Wildlife Crime and World Wildlife Fund.

Nahla was once a pet and escaped after a flood. Her owner was in violation of city ordinance for having a "dangerous animals" within city limits.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The End...Or The Beginning!

Well, it’s about that time again…What time you might ask? The time for another group of IEAS interns to say goodbye! Over the past 3 months we have gotten to know each other very well, some might even say a little too well. We have all learned each other’s quirks. We know how to motivate each other, especially after a hard day’s work. We even know how to keep each other’s spirits up when morale is low. These past three months we have worked as a team and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of interns to work with. Each of us has benefited from this internship in different ways and we are now one step closer to reaching our career goals. Let’s take a look at where each of us is going next!

The 2016 spring interns! (From left to right: Maggie, Sarah, Erin, Bailey, Brenna, and Nathan.)

I’ll start with myself…my name is Erin and I have been interning at the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary for the past 6 months. When I graduated from college, I realized that my passion lies in animal care, so I've done various internships to get experience in this field. I recently accepted a small carnivore/primate keeper position at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Fort Wayne, IN. This will be my first actual job as a keeper and I absolutely cannot wait to start on this new journey!

Me (Erin) preparing our bear cub diets.

Maggie was another 6 month intern with me (believe it or not, we were roommates, woot woot!!!). She has decided to continue to assist here at the Sanctuary, right here in Boyd, TX! Maggie is from around the area, so when our new batch of interns gets here, she will be commuting from home. However, she will be instrumental in teaching these newbies the ropes and looks forward to taking this leadership role!

Maggie checking the toolbox for one of our vehicles.

Now for our three month interns! Let’s start with Brenna. Brenna was offered an internship at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples, FL. Here she will not only be involved in the animal care of various native Florida wildlife, but she also gets to assist in the rehabilitation and release of these beautiful animals! When she was offered this position, she was told that she will be spending a lot of time in the nursery upon her arrival as it is baby season. She will definitely be spending the beginning of her internship out right if I do say so myself!

Brenna preparing the diets for our white-nosed coati's.

Bailey was another three month intern at the Sanctuary! She will be heading to Cimarron, NM to work at the Philmont Scout Ranch, which is the Boy Scouts of America’s largest national High Adventure Base. There is a lot to do here including hiking, camping, and visiting various museums, but Bailey will be a program counselor. As a program counselor, she gets to pretend she is a member of the old Abreau family and explain to others what it's like to live in the 1800's. However, she is most excited about getting to take care of the farm animals!

Bailey fixing one of our pesky sprayers!

Sarah was yet another three month intern at IEAS. Ever since she got her first cat, Sarah knew she wanted to be a vet and has continued to pursue her dream! Throughout her internship, she was able to observe various veterinary procedures that have provided her with very valuable experience and knowledge that will assist her in the path to becoming an exotic veterinarian. With that being said, Sarah is is currently working on her vet school application! In the meantime, she will be heading back home to Pullman, WA where she will spend some quality time with family and friends, volunteering at local vet clinics and humane societies, and squeezing in as many backpacking adventures as she possibly can! 

Sarah collecting the metal buckets to put in our vehicles.

Last, but not least, we have Nathan! Nathan is the only intern who is staying on for the six month animal care internship at the Sanctuary. As a six month intern, he will gain more responsibilities and assist in training the new interns when they arrive as well. Between Nathan and Maggie, the new interns have two spectacular role models and are definitely in good hands!

Nathan sorting out bear meat.

Well, I hope you enjoyed meeting our interns and learning about their future plans! I myself can’t wait to see what the future has in store for all of us! If you have any interest in interning at the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, just visit our website at and start your application today!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Meet our Newest Residents!

We have two new residents at the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary!!

Meet Rob, and ocelot that came to us from a zoo. We are told that Rob was very shy at the zoo and did not often greet visitors, additionally they wanted to make room for a new breeding male. We gladly met the transfer team in Texarkana and transported Rob to IEAS in his kennel. Once at IEAS, we placed his kennel inside his new habitat and opened the door. It took Rob several hours to venture outside his kennel. Initially he would explore a little and return to his kennel. Once he started using the habitat’s igloo for shelter, we removed his kennel and he is right at home. Now, after just a few weeks, he regularly ventures out and uses the perches and ramps. He is even frequently more social than our other ocelot, Rio. Since I was part of the transfer team, I asked for the assignment of sitting with Rob daily for emotional enrichment. He has already become used to my presence. A clear sign of this is that he has even been comfortable enough to eat nearby where I was sitting.

Meet Nahla, a 5 month old orange Bengal Tiger from Conroe, Texas. Nahla was a former house pet found wandering the streets in Conroe following a storm and was picked up by the local animal control. When we found out about Nahla, our executive director spent several hours negotiating her transition to IEAS. Nahla was delivered to us just a few weeks ago. She is starting off out in our quarantine area, this is our normal protocol to ensure that she is healthy before her move to her permanent habitat.  It did not take long for our staff to recognize that she especially loves to play in water. It is also obvious that Nahla is very social and loves company. She is very curious of the other animal residents, and always will come over to greet staff, interns, and tour guests. Meanwhile the interns and staff are busy preparing her permanent home where she will move following her quarantine period. Her new naturalistic habitat is complete with a good-sized pool, to fulfill her love for water, perches, large house, shade and sun areas.

Enjoy this video of Nahla checkin out a water tub for the first time!

Being able to continually bring in animals in need of a safe and permanent home is all thanks to our supporters.  Without generous individuals and companies we would not be able to do what we do and provide all the present and future IEAS resident animals with the care they deserve.  If you would like to donate to the Sanctuary or adopt one of our resident animals please visit our website:

Friday, May 6, 2016

King of the Jungle

King of the Jungle

(Odin, our own male lion, surveying his kingdom.)

Lions (Panthera leo leo) are well known for their command of the sub-Saharan African plains.  As the largest predator in their habitat (reaching almost seven feet in length), the lion sits comfortably at the top of the food chain. Especially the dominant male lion, as he is rarely the one to take down prey but is always the first to eat. The lions social nature- unique among large cats and solely represented by the lion, allows them to form a hierarchy within the pride with the dominant male lion seated on top as king. While the females, almost always related within the pride as mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, etc., are the best hunters- the males are larger and stronger and therefore, are relied upon for protection as the leaders of the pride.
(A pride of lions in sub-Saharan Africa.)

Lionesses do not exhibit any social dominance over one another, that is, not one female is the leader of the other females. Each lioness plays an important role in the social structure of the pride, each has her place in the hunt, and each takes a role in mating. The females who refuse to participate in mating with the dominant male lion may be chased out/banned from the pride, or killed. Lionesses will care for each others young, cross-nursing them, as they tend to all give birth around the same time.  This strengthens the females’ bonds to one another, ensuring the safety of their young against any would-be invading male lions.

     (One of our Lionesses, Nala, relaxing on her perch.)                (Our other Lioness, Shauna, making a silly face.)

Male lions, on the other hand, are pushed out of the pride as they approach maturity, usually with their brothers or other male cousins born around the same time. This ensures no competition for dominance within the pride, increases genetic diversity among all lions, and prevents inbreeding causing genetic mutations. There can be several male lions within a pride, but there is always one that is most dominant above the others. The king of the lions is the largest one with the most pronounced mane. Although, there are some prides which have formed coalitions, being ruled over by two-to-three dominate males, spanning vast distances, and being comprised of a few prides together.

(Odin’s mane, now that he is three years old, is very full and reaches down to the center
of his back, he would certainly be a more dominant male in the wild.)

What many people do not know is that this beautiful giant not only roams on the African plains; but also in the Gir Forest National Park of India. When once lions roamed all over the Asian, African, and European continents- now only a small population (several hundred) of Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica) remain to call this national park home. A dominant male asiatic lion may just be the true “King of the Jungle” as their habitat would imply. These lions are reportedly larger than their African counter-parts, reaching lengths of up to nine feet. However, while still maintaining the social skills common to all lions, Asiatic lions divide into prides much differently than those seen on the African plains. In India the lions are separated into two prides- one male, and one female. The two prides come together only during mating season each year. After their four-month gestation period, cubs arrive, and true to lion pride etiquette- the females stay with the female pride, and once the males are mature enough to go out on their own they are sent to find the male pride.

(Shauna and Nala, left to right respectively, both know how to relax in the summer heat… Nala maybe more-so.)

African lions are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Due to the threats they face from hunters, habitat loss, and diseases- their numbers have decreased by almost half in the past two decades alone. In 1975 there was an estimated 250,000 wild lions in Africa, today those numbers have dwindled down to approximately 30,000 individual African lions. Asiatic lion are listed as “endangered” by the IUCN’s Red List, however, their numbers in recent years have been steadily increasing. There were an estimated 177 Asiatic lions in 1968, 359 in 2005, and most recently their numbers have been estimated to be around 523 individuals in 2015. Hopefully these numbers, as well as those of their African cousins, may steadily increase well into the future giving these gorgeous giants a chance at surviving alongside our human populations, instead of fighting against them.

(Shauna, Odin, & Nala all deserve to be represented by their wild relatives well into the future!)


At the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, conservation education tours are given to educate the public about various exotic species. IEAS is home to 74 residents; 30 bears, 37 felines, and 7 other exotics, including wolves, coati, ring-tailed lemur, and capybara. Before tours begin, guests meet in the gift shop where they can look at various merchandise, see images of current residents and learn about adoption packets. All proceeds go to the residents at IEAS!

Come early to look around the gift shop!

During tours, guests are taken around the Sanctuary with a staff member, intern or volunteer. A typical tour will last around two hours and guest will walk roughly 1.3 miles. It is a great way to exercise, explore the outdoors and learn about conservation and natural species history. As an intern, I look forward to educating the public and observe the residents' behaviors. Each time I give a tour, the animal residents are doing something different; no two tours are the same! It gives me the chance to learn more about each of their unique behaviors. My career goal is to become an exotic veterinarian. Exposure to various species, their natural history, conservation and behaviors are a fantastic way to strengthen my knowledge about exotic species.

Tour guests on their way to the next habitat.

I like to observe our four grizzly bears’ behaviors. Wendy, Willy, Papa Bear, and George came to IEAS in 2007 from a facility that believed their two older grizzly bears were unable to reproduce.  Once the female gave birth, the facility could not afford to build them a proper enclosure or care for them. Quickly, the four of them adapted to their new environment here at IEAS and love playing with each other. On tours, the grizzlies will play with toys, wrestle, lay on perches, bath in their pool or walk around their habitat. Guests of all ages enjoy watching these playful, cute, and goofy animals!

The grizzlies taking time away from playing to pose for a family portrait.

Another tour favorite is Popeye, the ring-tailed lemur.  You can find him bouncing, climbing, and vocalizing during tours. He is quite the showoff and loves the attention tour guests provide for him! Popeyes' habitat is located in the prime location for his personality. As soon as a tour group reaches his habitat, he begins leaping around. Immediately, tour guests notice Popeye rubbing his forearms on branches. Ring-tailed lemurs have scent glands located on their forearms. By rubbing items in his habitat, Popeye is putting his scent on everything and claiming it as his!

One of the rare occasions where Popeye stood still for a photo.

Stop by IEAS to experience your own tour and learn more about these amazing animals! Tours are given at 11 am Monday-Sunday with an additional tour on Saturdays at 3 pm. Children seven years and up are admitted and more information can be found at Read our tour testimonials and we look forward to seeing you soon!  

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Transition... (3 Month vs 6 Month Interns)

As many of you might already know, the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary (IEAS) has an animal care intern program. This internship is definitely not a cake-walk; it not only challenges you physically, but also mentally and even emotionally. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the testimonials on our website at: However, this internship is also extremely rewarding. The more work you put into it, the more you get out of it. Recently, I made the transition from a 3 month intern to a 6 month intern. The first 3 months are a probation period, after which you’re evaluated and if the staff feels that you’re ready for the next step, you’re allowed to stay for the remaining 3 months. During these final 3 months, you gain more responsibilities and by the end of the internship, you might even have the opportunity to earn the title of Assistant Keeper (which looks ten times better on a resume than “Animal Care Intern”).

 In the first three months, you learn the basics of zookeeping. Most of your focus is on learning the daily routine: diet prep, cleaning, habitat maintenance, safety protocols, tour etiquette, etc. Keep in mind that we currently have 73 exotic animals at our Sanctuary, so learning the specifics of the cleaning routines for every habitat can be a chore! Learning the personalities and behaviors of each animal will help you be successful and more efficient while doing these daily routines as well. You also have to familiarize yourself with the surrounding area a little bit, as you’re expected to go on produce runs to Brookshire’s in Bridgeport and Lowe’s Marketplace in Boyd as well as to the local recycling facility. These two grocery stores donate bins of produce we use to feed the resident bears to IEAS daily that the interns get to pick up and sort through.

I am putting our recently donated salmon oil into the grizzly bear diets, which are made daily!

Two of our 3 month interns, Dillon and Brenna, sorting through the produce bins.

So far, I have managed to survive the first 3 months and I am actually halfway through with the second half of my internship. I am now confident of the daily routine and know my way around the area fairly well, considering I’ve only ever lived in WI. For this session, we gained 5 new interns, leaving only 2 veteran interns (Maggie and I) to train them on our daily tasks (with the exception of the morning cleaning routines.) I’ve never been involved in training new interns on such a high level before, so this kind of leadership role was challenging for me as I’ve only ever worked with younger kids.

As part of the 6 month internship, I have begun learning to do drive-thrus. A drive-thru is basically a safety check. To do a drive-thru, you drive around the entire Sanctuary in a keeper vehicle and double check all the locks, house gates, mid-gates, pins, electric fences, locate the animals, etc. It might sound simple, but you really have to be on your game. Just think about it; if someone forgot to raise a mid-gate after cleaning, and that animal only has one water trough in their habitat, that animal could potentially be without water for almost 24 hours. As you can imagine, leaving a lock unlocked could be catastrophic as well. At IEAS we stress safety, which is why drive-thrus are imperative and cannot be taken lightly.

When we prove our observation skills during drive-thrus, we are given the responsibility to pick up the "little guys. We consider “little guys” to be our bobcats, servals, caracal, ocelots and coatis.  We are told the routine and how to pick up each habitat once by the keeper, then we are on our own without close observation and expected to pick up the habitats correctly and safely.  My main issue with this is trying to remember the area that each animal poops in. As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. Thus why I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it soon enough! 

 Billy, our caracal (pictured above), and Mindy, one of our white-nosed coatis (pictured below), are just two of our "little guys".

The next step is to be given the “keeper keys”. With these keys comes the responsibility to feed the bears and be a keeper in a section for a day, while having to direct of two interns. This task is of course under the observation of a keeper nearby. Our daily feedings are split into 2-3 different sections depending on the number of keepers we have available per day. The keepers have the responsibility of feeding the animals, in addition to making sure all safety procedures and routines are followed efficiently. If I’m able to do this, I will be able to earn the title of Assistant Keeper!

You can definitely tell there is a difference in responsibility between the 3 month interns and the 6 month interns. The 6 month interns have proved themselves to be reliable and thus are entrusted with several higher level tasks than the 3 month interns. Are you interested in becoming an intern? Visit our website at: to start your application today!

Maggie and I goofing off after a hard day's work! (Star Wars fans already know, but yes, Vadering is a thing!)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sapphire, Jewel of the Sanctuary

Here at IEAS we recently suffered a loss of one of our most beloved and well known residents. Sapphire was a 16-year-old cougar that came from another facility in Ohio that lost funding. When I got here 4 months ago, I was lucky enough to participate in the Emotional Enrichment Program with her.  Emotional Enrichment is a technique for improving and enhancing an animal's emotional life and minimizing stress, agitation, and irritation within the context of the animal's personality and biological instincts. It is a process wherein keepers, employees, and/or behaviorists create an emotional bond with the animal. 

One of Sapphire's favorite toys, a hanging buoy 

I got to personally know this amazing cougar during these sits. When I first started sitting with her, she would give me an initial hiss every time. Eventually, with time and sitting with her multiple times a week, the initial hiss changed to an initial purr. If she was in her house, she would come out and lay by the fence and would give me some of the loudest purrs I’ve ever heard. She was very affectionate and quickly became one of my favorites here.

Even though she was super affectionate, she could be just as sassy… especially in the mornings. Most people can relate to getting a tad bit grumpy when they’re hungry in the morning and Sapphire was no exception to this. When we would go to feed her, she would give us some of her famous cougar yells and hisses as we locked her out of her house. As soon as she ate, she was a whole new cat. We all loved her sassy attitude, and she was certainly the firecracker of the Sanctuary.

It was a pleasure getting to know this amazing cougar these past 4 months. After we were done with work, my highlight of the day would be to go sit with Sapphire and spend some time with her. She certainly captured my heart every time she would look at me, roll over, and purr. 

Sapphire captured the hearts of everyone who has worked here and have gotten to know her; she will be surly missed. She was her sassy self up until the very end, when her little body just could not keep up anymore.  She we always be remembered for her attitude at feeding and her purrs during afternoon
sits. She will hold a special part in the IEAS family. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Emotional Enrichment Sits with Bengal Tiger, Sajani

Here at International Exotic Animal Sanctuary (IEAS), we have the unique Emotional Enrichment Program.   Emotional Enrichment is a technique for improving and enhancing an animal's emotional life and minimizing stress, agitation, and irritation within the context of the animal's personality and biological instincts. It is a process wherein keepers, employees, and/or behaviorists create an emotional bond with the animal.  Each intern that wishes to participate in this amazing experience can pick two animals to sit with to develop a relationship with these exotic animals. In this week’s blog, I want to share about Sajani, one of the animals with which I get to sit.

Many of our pictures of Sajani are of her walking towards
the camera person.  She is one that always enjoys the
human company, and will come right over to the fence to greet you.
Sajani is a female Bengal tiger and is eighteen years old. She came to the Sanctuary in August of 2011. Sajani was rescued from the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, due to its closing. 

Not only is Sajani one of the sweetest residents here at IEAS, but she is also the silliest. I’ve notice from sitting with her for the last month that Sajani is always being a goofball. She loves when people, be it visitors, interns, staff, or volunteers, come to pay her a visit. When people are around her, Sajani will rub her face on the fence and chuff at you. She truly loves attention from everybody.

My favorite thing is when I sit with Sajani. She will come right up to the fence where I’m sitting, chuff at me, lay down, and then go to sleep. Not only is this the cutest thing I’ve ever witnessed, but it also means that Sajani feels comfortable with me around to put her guard down and go to sleep. That is the best thing that can happened to you if you are an intern trying to build rapport with an animal.

On days that I can’t find the time to sit with her, I’ll still go and say goodnight to her before it gets dark so she knows I did not and never could forget her. Whenever I return from sitting with her and the other interns ask me how it went, I always say the exact same thing, “I love her so much!” And it’s true. It’s truly amazing how much Sajani has changed me from our sits.