by Terrance Mc Arthur
There are some special things in the San Joaquin Valley area that everybody who lives around here should see or do. I call them “gottados.” I’ve heard about one place for years, even driven past it on my way up to Kings Canyon National Park, but I’ve never stopped there…until now. I wish I hadn’t waited so long: Cat Haven.
Cat Haven is a sanctuary for Big Cats (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars) and Smaller Cats (bobcats, jaguarondis, cheetahs, lynxes, etc.) about 50 minutes from downtown Fresno. It’s not a place to adopt a pussycat; it’s a chance to see some amazing animals and learn about them and the efforts to keep them on this planet. Most of these animals were born in captivity, so they would not survive in the wild, but they are not tame. Only one animal had its front paws declawed by previous owners, a procedure which is now illegal to do to these creatures, so they are dangerous.
The gift shop/offices/work area looks like a combination safari hotel and a ritzy vacation cabin. That’s where I saw Dianna, a young White Tiger named in memory of Dianna Hanson, a volunteer intern who died in a tragic accident at Cat Haven in March. She was killed by a male lion, CousCous, who was put down by local law enforcement. The human Dianna once missed an A in an art class because she painted a tiger with blue eyes. Dianna the tiger has blue eyes.
Visitors to the wild animal sanctuary are not allowed to roam the grounds. Tours start as often as needed from 10 a.m. until an hour before closing time. Guides lead guests on a short walking tour of the animal enclosures, with golf carts available for people who might have trouble with the up-and-down road. My tour guide was Ryan, a cheerful young man who lives at the site. The animals are his alarm clock, as a lion’s roar can be heard from five miles away!
The cat enclosures vary in size according to the activity needs of the animals. Whirlpool the Bobcat likes to laze around inside a cardboard box. She was found in an old washing machine in a mine shaft in Arizona with her brother, Maytag, after their mother had been killed.
Kong (as in “King Kong”) is a magnificent tiger whose idea of fun is resting below the edge of his fence, next to the pond reeds and charging out when the tour group comes by. He does get quite a reaction! A snow leopard hates snow and she likes to stay in her shelter during cold weather.
Titan is a new male lion at the park, but he is not currently allowed out at the same time as the female. Now he seems more interested in being in his shelter, because the 450-pound cat is convinced there will be food every time he goes back inside.
There’s a Canada Lynx named Eh (what a hoser!) and a Melaninic Leopard (what many would call a Black Panther) named Butch, who has sired a number of cubs. A hammock for some animals is made of fire hose material, because their claws and teeth would shred most other substances. A cracked bowling ball is mute testimony to the power of a Big Cat’s teeth and jaws.
Project Survival’s Cat Haven Big Cat Sanctuary is not just the 100-acre property Dale Anderson purchased in 1993. Income above basic expenses goes to fund rescue and animal conservation efforts in Africa, Brazil, and an Asian program for Amur Leopards run by former Soviet soldiers. Current fundraising efforts are focused on building a full clinic for the park’s animals. Pending legislation may affect the acquisition and keeping of wild animals, so Project Survival is bringing attention to this threat, because they want to be able to care for and help animals for a long time.
To get to Cat Haven, take 180-East toward the mountains, making sure you turn left at the outdoor fruit stand south of the Minkler curve (or you’ll end up in Reedley—not to say that’s a bad place to end up, but we want to see Big Cats in the mountains, not cool cats in Reedley!). Pass through Squaw Valley and go 2.5 miles past Clingan’s Junction. The Cat Haven sign and entrance are on the left. The actual address is: 38257 E. Kings Canyon Rd. Dunlap, CA, 93621. Hours are 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. from May to September (closed on Tuesdays), and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. the rest of the year (closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Adult admission is $9, seniors are $7.50, and children 4-12 are $6. For information, contact them at (559) 338-3216 or www.cathaven.com.