TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – Two sanctuaries and a zoo rescued four big cats from a defunct drive-thru roadside safari in northeast Oklahoma June 10.

The Oakland Zoo in California, the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas and Lions Tigers & Bears in California all collaborated to rescue two tigers, a lion, and a tiger hybrid from the Oklahoma facility that was once opened to the public and offered cub petting and photo opportunities.

“There are major red flags that show these animals were victims of the cub petting industry,” said Bobbi Brink, Founder and Director of Lions Tigers & Bears. “These cats were declawed and in poor health and living conditions. They were likely bred to be photo props, and once they grew too big and were no longer profitable, they were abandoned. We are the animals’ voices, and we need to work toward education and legislation, because each animal rescued makes a difference.”

The facility was cited and shut down by the USDA in 2008 after multiple safety and welfare violations.

The four big cats rescued were the sole remaining animals at the abandoned facility.

“These big cats were living in small, filthy enclosures. Shelter was provided but was terribly weathered and rotten,” said Tanya Smith, President and Founder of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. “Aside from some good Samaritans, they were left alone, fed inconsistently, and needed veterinary care. We’re so relieved to provide new homes to these animals and help them thrive.”

The rescued animals, all female and declawed—a standard practice in the cub-petting industry—include:

  • An elderly, arthritic lion that required immediate medical attention and care, going to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
  • A tiger hybrid in poor condition with a facial wound and bowed legs, going to Oakland Zoo
  • Two tigers housed in separate enclosures, both energetic but lean, one going to Oakland Zoo and one going to Lions Tigers & Bears

“For the past thirty years, we’ve fully committed Oakland Zoo’s tiger habitat as a sanctuary for tigers victimized by the circus, roadside zoo, private ownership, and cub-petting industries. Those tigers need help, and we can provide that help while educating the public about the dangers of animal exploitation practiced in those industries. When a concerned Oklahoma resident called us to help these big cats, who have endured so much suffering, there was no question that we would step in and give them the homes and care they deserve, at Oakland Zoo and our partnering sanctuaries, for the remainder of their lives,” Nik Dehejia, CEO, Oakland Zoo.

Rescue officials say the roadside zoo and its owner were reported to have ties to “Tiger King” star, Joe Exotic.