With nothing but a passion for animals and a concern about the plight of the tiger, Brian Werner along with his family started the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge (Tiger Creek). The sanctuary began development in 1997 as a division or project of the Tiger Missing Link Foundation (Tigerlink). The Tiger Missing Link Foundation itself was started in September of 1995 by the Werner’s and was chartered in Ohio in April of 1996. Tigerlink served as the corporate basecamp for the next 3 decades well into the millennial. The Werner’s did this by building a unique educational facility and taking in unwanted tigers and other big cats. There were such as significant number of big cats being abandoned, neglected or displaced because of the exotic market boom in the late 1980’s through the mid 90’s.
Initially, Brian Werner, founded and originated Tiger Missing Link Foundation to start documenting tigers in captivity outside of accredited zoos. The first tiger that he had acquired participated in the first genetic testing of tigers through the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the results astonished everyone. The tiger turned out to be an Indochinese tiger, a species of tiger that not many zoos even have. This led to the theory that we cannot discard tigers that are being kept in captivity; whether in sanctuaries, small zoos or in private hands, and label them as generic or “junk” tigers. “These captive tigers are more genetically diverse than both wild tigers and those located within the nation’s zoos. If we are going to save a species from becoming extinct, we must look at every individual out there that represents that species because every tiger matters” (Brian Werner 1995).
In 1998, the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge opened to the public and sat on the 25 acres that Werner had purchased in 1988-89 while home on Christmas Leave from the U.S. Navy.
After the military service, in 1993; Brian Werner and his family of five moved onto the property and lived in a small barn red cabin, off the grid and with no running water. They started clearing land by hand, building small cages and preparing a place for unwanted tigers, they recruited any volunteer that they could find to help build and care for the cats.
At first, Tiger Creek could only afford smaller enclosures with exercise yards to rotate the cats through. It was understood that this wouldn’t be permanent, but for the time being, it would work. There were struggles and some challenges were overwhelming, but they knew there was no turning back.
As the public started to show interest in Tiger Creek the Werner’s wanted to allow visitors entry but had limited funds crucial to creating the remarkable experience intended for our guests. They were nervous that they would not have the support needed to continue the success in changing the lives for these big cats, but over time they garnisheed support from people across the globe. People love what the Werner’s did for these big cats and that’s why Tiger Creek is still here today.
With small steps the family soon moved out of the little red cabin and turned it into an intermediate feed room. That little red cabin has now been completely restored and is scheduled to be made part of the tour for the visitors as a reminder of Tiger Creek’s humble beginning.
Next, a small kiosk was added that served as a check in point for visitors and it offered a few gift shop items. The kiosk resembled a small brown firework stand at best. The family was truly thrilled when the local Coca-Cola representative approached them about a soda machine they had with a picture of an African Lion on the front! The small growth was exciting, but everyone knew they still had a long road ahead.
Tiger Creek has seen a lot of changes over the years as it continued towards development and built top-rated, nationally recognized enclosures for the big cats. These enclosures were the design by Mr. Werner himself and that legacy of quality construction continues with his children and grandchildren. Eventually they opened the new area in the back of the refuge where the larger habitats for the big cats are nearing completion. This area will eventually be converted as quarantine areas for newly arrived animals. The area allows visitors to view the big cats in a natural setting with trees, grass, room to run, tubs of water to cool off in and platforms to lounge on. The original old parking lot area has since been turned into the small cat area, along with larger enclosures. Cougars, leopards and other smaller felines like to climb and lounge up high while looking down on everyone, and they can do just that in these new habitats.
Each new habitat has indoor enclosures, so staff can secure the cats inside when needed. This allows the keepers to feed the cats inside their house or hold them isolated for medical procedures. Since the exterior of the houses are finished in stone they remain cool in the summer time and warm in the winter. Automatic watering systems provide fresh water 24 hours a day and, of course, each house has a lounging platform inside. Black coated chain link helps our guests see the cats more clearly.
No longer do we have the cramped little red cabin filled with chest freezers as our feed room. We now have a walk-in cooler, freezer and food prep area. This has been an exciting addition for the staff, as it makes preparing and storing food for the cats more convenient. A small cedar building provides the staff with the much-needed office space and serves as a temporary visitor center. It includes a precious gift-shop and break room. This building will become the Animal Care Center once the new educational center is built. Two ponds allow for appropriate drainage of the property, a water source in case of a fire and a place for cubs to swim and play when we have them.
In 2016 more land was acquired and now provides frontage road property on FM 14 and FM 16, this land will be a key element in our expansion.
To help numerous species of animals in 2017 Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge was rebranded as Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary. To expand these services the company underwent a name change as well. Tiger Creek now serves under the National Foundation for Rescued Animals.
Our passion for tiger conservation is never ending. We will always continue to network with conservationists, biologists, and zoos to help protect and save this endangered species. Since our early days of the first genetic testing of tigers, we continue to push for more genetic testing and work with organizations such as Texas A&M, the National Institute for Health, and various research stations around the globe by providing blood samples to further develop the conservation genetic database, testing and research. We look forward to the expansion of services for all animals. Together we are all “Saving Animals One by One”.