HDW's "BIG CATS" and FOOTHILL FELINES Present:
UP CLOSE AND PURR-SONAL
AT "TIGER TOUCH"
ENDANGERED FELINE SANCTUARY
HDW's EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JOHN WILLIAMSON
TIGER TOUCH is an exotic feline sanctuary, located about 70 miles east of Reno, Nevada, in the United States, on about 10 acres of land. With an elevation of just over 4,000 feet, the climate and terrain are very suitable to the mission of the Founders and Directors of TIGER TOUCH to love and respect all life, and especially exotic felines to reduce individual suffering and vanishing species, and to encourage the idea that many species can be our human companions, rather than our captive aliens, by encouraging responsible private stewardship of endangered exotic felines.
The Founders ofTIGER TOUCH are Mary Walker, Nola Fletcher, Barbara Williamson and John Williamson. TIGER TOUCH is funded directly from the pockets of these dedicated Founders, who feel their energy, flexibility, and goal should go towards their mission, rather than into fund-raising efforts. And just who are The Directors at TIGER TOUCH ?? Why, the large exotic cats who have such a vested interest in the commitment and efforts of these humans, of course!
But there is so much more to their story, and to help you better understand TIGER TOUCH , here is our exclusive interview with John Williamson.
HDW: John, thank you for taking this time with me to tell your story. Let's begin with, what prompted you to start TIGER TOUCH ???
JW: Well, the idea goes back many years but began in earnest after we rescued five large felines in our area from a terminal situation and committed ourselves to caring for them. Close contact with these cats brought home to us the desperate plight facing ALL big cats, wild or captive.
We also realized that our long association with research into human violence put us in a unique position to address the main issue surrounding big cats that of their dangerousness to people. We saw this issue as a singularly profound barrier to their survival. In the wild, it sets them apart as unwanted predators, mostly to be hunted. In captivity, this issue of dangerousness severely limits their opportunities for care. So, with these things in mind, we decided to create TIGER TOUCH to enable us to focus on our insights, while in the constant presence of big cats and their own intuition and intelligence.
HDW: Can you tell us a little about each of your Founders???
JW: Barbara (Williamson) and I are retirees from big business who still use our business skills, but now to do more of the things that are really important to us. At the top of this list is our love of big cats and our gratitude for what they have given us over the years. It's our pay-back to them to help those we can to live decent lives and survive as a species. That's what drives us and gives us our sense of purpose I'm an engineer and Barbara is a business person. We're both very comfortable and familiar with complex projects and long term commitment, so TIGER TOUCH is an extremely rewarding project for us to put our energies and talents into.
In our community there are several people who, at one time or another, worked with the big cats that we rescued. Two of these people, Mary (Walker) and Nola (Fletcher), graciously offered to help us at TIGER TOUCH . Both are young women with an extensive background in caring for homeless and/or helpless animals. Their most valuable contribution to TIGER TOUCH is their wonderful inner calm and their ability to empathize and communicate with animals without using their voices. The cats all adore them for this.
In addition, Mary and Nola play a critical role in TIGER TOUCH by being able to identify and interpret behavioral changes in the cats with uncanny accuracy. This is due to their both being able to cross many of the major boundaries that have traditionally separated human and cat. This gift of theirs has been vital to our development of protocols and nutritional programs geared towards successful human rearing of these cats.
HDW: How did TIGER TOUCH come to be located in Nevada???
JW: Essentially, we always wanted to move to the desert for its dry, crisp climate and slower pace of living. The small town near Reno that we live in now suits us well and is a great place to pursue our interests in, and passion for, CATS!
HDW: John, how would you describe your main goal at TIGER TOUCH ???
JW: Our main goal and mission now is to encourage greater captive stewardship of endangered feline species within the private sector. As time runs out for the wild populations of many species, there are so many responsible people around who would love to care for an exotic cat or two. The model program we are working with and fine-tuning brings these two factors together to provide "safety net gene pools" that are much larger and more efficiently managed than the charters of traditional zoo facilities and the economics of the wild habitat allow.
Until recently, we weren't sure this was possible. Now, with some of the wonderful research done by Dr. James W. Prescott and others, we are VERY enthused and feel that it may be only a matter of time until this is accomplished.
HDW: Please tell us about the exotic felines that you currently have at TIGER TOUCH how many, and what kind are they???
JW: We have ten exotics at present; a male Bengal tiger (Detonator); a female Siberian tiger; both female and male African lions that show the rare Barbary traits; two female cougars; two bobcats; a Siberian lynx; and an African serval. The lynx and the serval are our personal companion cats, the ones that live in our home with us and even travel with us!!
HDW: How do you find these exotic animals to bring to your sanctuary???
JW: With the exception of the companion cats, all our present cats were rescued from nearby areas where they were in danger of being killed. If we were able to care for more, we could bring in literally hundreds of big cats who desperately need shelter from mistreatment or euthanasia. It's a sad situation often made worse when people with good intentions try to care for these cats, only to find they haven't the resources. Then the cats suffer even more as they are killed or passed from one caretaker to the next.
HDW: What are some of the processes that you go through with these felines to help them to become more attractive as companion animals to people who DO have the resources and the desire to care for them???
JW: Although there are exceptions, most adult cats coming into sanctuaries have suffered abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to help them become trustworthy companions after they have suffered this way at the hands of humans. The feline brain and psyche are much less malleable than a human's, and we all know how difficult it is to treat and cure the various emotional problems and psychosis' of humans! The most one can do for these troubled cats is to simply love, respect, and care for them. They will always be dangerous due to their unpredictability, even though they also may be able to show great affection to humans.
To have a companion cat that is trustworthy, predictable and less dangerous, several critical factors must be carefully attended to during the first few months of its life. Then after that, conventional training methods are needed for another year or two, depending upon the individual cat. We are now making the early rearing information available to select people who are willing to make a life-long commitment to a companion cat one which can be added to its species gene pool and bred under genetic management if that becomes necessary for species preservation.
(HDW's note: John is referring here to the "Large Feline Survival, Gene Pool Diversity and the Human Touch: The Role of Private Captive Stewardship in Species Survival", by James W. Prescott, Ph.D. In this essay, Dr. Prescott provides detailed documentation and recommendations for human rearing of big cats when they are separated from their mothers at birth and hand-reared. These recommendations include having one, constant human surrogate mother, with constant skin to skin contact with the newborn feline; providing as closely as possible a normal social group environment; i.e., "littermates"; nutrition that comes as closely as possible to the biological mother's breast milk; socialization experiences with peer large felines; and supplementation of the biological formula milk with tryptophan, a pre-cursor amino acid essential for the development of brain serotonin.)
HDW: How do you locate and screen responsible people to whom you will entrust the care of these exotic cats???
JW: Well, it's certainly more difficult than screening for human adoption! The main problem is providing enough education so a person can understand what to expect and make their OWN judgment about being suitable. After that, there are issues of financial stability, lifestyle, and responsibility to deal with. Clearly, we cannot do all we're suggesting, even though it is fun to raise baby cats, especially tigers! To create sufficiently large back-up breeding pools in less than a lifetime, however, will require a number of dedicated breeders to produce these special cats destined for a very special group of people.
HDW: Do you ever plan to have TIGER TOUCH be "open to the public", or is this contraindicated in your program???
JW: No, we have no desire for a public operation. That runs counter to the very concept of a "sanctuary". The cats we have do enjoy attention, but not from crowds. We treat our situation here more like a community resource where people who live here and love big cats can visit and enjoy quiet time with them. Everyone benefits that way; cats and people alike.
We are considering a new facility especially equipped to raise less dangerous big cats, mostly sub-species of tigers on the edge of extinction. We're about a hundred percent sure of the science now , but there are still the matters of funding, politics, and securing what amounts to government acceptance of our formal program proposal. It's not just a matter of raising cubs. It's having a suitable structure within our world society; a safe and sensible place for them that embodies a long range view toward their future and their well being.
Right now, no big cat is truly safe. In the wild, they face loss of habitat, disease, poaching, man's pollution, and senseless hunting. For some, it is only a matter of a decade or less despite herculean preservation efforts. In captivity, they face perhaps even more cruel threats from man's politics, shortsightedness, economics, and a fearful public created from the negative images presented by our media.
HDW: We'd love to hear about some of your success stories!!!
JW: Peggy Sue, the Siberian lynx, is a good example. A Siberian lynx is a formidable cat who, in the wild, can take down prey much larger than themselves. Like all big cats, they consider children prey and can be very dangerous around them. Peggy Sue's early rearing was in accordance with about fifty percent of the protocols we now consider essential to fostering a low level of dangerousness in big cats. Even so, though she will play rough if someone wants to, she can be completely trusted with children and babies, showing deference to their youth much as human parents do. She runs completely free in our home, and is quite considerate of people and other animals. She loves to travel with us and play "ambassador". She cares for her companions as much as they care for her. There are other successes here, but they are partly recovered cats who can now be handled, but are not completely trustworthy.
HDW: Since 1998 was the "Year of the Tiger" for many of our readers, please tell us about "Detonator", one of your Directors, and a magnificent, rare Bengal Tiger currently at TIGER TOUCH !!!
JW: Well, maybe the best way to describe Detonator is to say that he is the most intelligent cat we have ever known. He has met the challenges in his life with unswerving good will, NEVER with malice. He is the unquestioned mediator of both cat and human grievances. He communicates. He believes in fun, yet manages the affairs of the compound with the utmost tact and diplomacy. Regrettably, no one bothered to teach him that people are fragile, and can't laugh with a tiger sitting on them!
HDW: How can people contact you to find out more information about TIGER TOUCH ???
JW: We can be reached by:
MAIL: TIGER TOUCH , Box 1240, Fallon, NV 89407, USA
HDW: John, thank you so much for this wonderful interview! We invite all interested readers to log on to the TIGER TOUCH website, located at: http://www.tigertouch.org.
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