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Local Animal Sanctuary Owner Fights For Legislation To Protect Lions, Tigers And Leopards

A wild cat is seen in this photo at Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine on July...

Photo by Mike Damron

Above: A wild cat is seen in this photo at Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine on July 29, 2021.

Set among the rolling hills of San Diego County’s backcountry, just a few miles outside of Alpine, there is a menagerie: 93-acres of sanctuary. And a name that says it all: Lions, Tigers and Bears — a home for rescued animals.

“The exotic animal trade is second to drugs and weapons and human trafficking in our country. These animals are used, abused and bred for nothing more than profit," said Bobbi Brink.

Listen to this story by John Carroll.

Brink is the founder and director of Lions, Tigers and Bears, home to dozens of animals, but not just the ones in the title. Bobcats, goats, a llama, along with some horses and birds who live here too. It is accredited by the American Sanctuary Association.

Photo caption:

Photo by Mike Damron

A bear is seen in this photo at Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine, Calif. on July 29, 2021.

Brink explained why that’s important.

“A true sanctuary rescues, provides a lifetime home, does not breed, sell or trade animals," she said.

People begin their time here watching a video explaining how the animals they’re about to see got here. KPBS was there on July 29, International Tiger Day.

In celebration of the day, there was something special for two of the residents: treats hidden in cardboard creations, raw meat for the tigers Nola and Moka.

To visit, it costs either $43 or $46 for adults depending on the day and $26 for children for a day’s visit. The 15,000 yearly visitors help pay the bills.

“It’s about $15,000 a year to feed just one cat and then our biggest expense is our buildings, these vast habitats, insurance, pumping the water, electricity, keeper salaries — all these animals got to have someone to take care of them daily, so yeah, it’s not cheap," said Brink.

About $2 million a year to take care of 65 animals. So while visitors help with daily expenses, donations help pay for some of the bigger expenses, like the rehabilitation of the animals. A lot of them are in bad shape when they arrive. The life some bears lived before getting here is stomach-turning.

Photo caption:

Photo by John Carroll

Balou the bear is seen in this photo at Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine on July 29, 2021.

Brink detailed what happened to some of the bears.

“Balou behind me is a perfect example, what we call pit bears. So, they’re literally in cinder block pits where the bears can’t see out — kept in breeding pairs, then when the babies are born they pull the babies about six to eight days from the momma. They take them up top where the momma can hear and smell them, but can’t see them for people to get their picture taken," she said.

When asked if she still gets angry at your fellow human beings Brink replied, “I have to control my temper a lot because you can’t lose your temper or we lose and we want to get the animals out of there and sometimes this can take like years, 5-6 years to get animals out of just disgusting places.”

Brink began her professional career as a flight attendant in 1990 but she soon realized that wasn’t for her. Next, she became a restaurateur but eventually she and her husband’s life paths led them here. They opened Lions, Tigers and Bears in 2002.

Brink said her most rewarding moments these days come from visitors who arrive not knowing anything about the exotic animal trade, but leave educated and motivated to do something about it.

“Even something you can do from home, helping us to pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act which is the federal legislation that would help us to stop the unnecessary breeding … And they can come and volunteer, of course they can donate, they can share on their social media," she said.

Photo caption:

Photo by Mike Damron

A tiger is seen in this photo at Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine on July 29, 2021.

Someday, Brink hopes there won’t be a need for places like Lions, Tigers and Bears.

“That is a sanctuary’s job is to try to be putting sanctuaries out of business," she said.

But until that day arrives, Brink, her staff and her volunteers will continue to expand this special place by building more habitats and by doing the daily work of making life as good as it can be for these animals who have suffered so much. More information on Lions, Tigers and Bears can be found online.

Reported by John Carroll , Video by Mike Damron

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John Carroll
General Assignment Reporter & Anchor

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI'm a general assignment reporter and Saturday morning radio anchor for KPBS. I love coming up with story ideas that aren't being covered elsewhere, but I'm also ready to cover the breaking news of the day. In addition, I bring you the local news headlines on Saturday mornings during NPR's Weekend Edition.

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