With the kids about to be out of school for summer, you might be looking for that perfect 2018 day trip for the whole family.
We’ve got just the location, but kids must be seven or older to take the tour.
This destination is about 90 miles southeast of Wichita Falls, and it’s where beautiful, exotic animals are just waiting to be discovered and loved.
The International Exotic Animal Sanctuary sits on about 50 acres outside Boyd in Wise County.
The nonprofit was founded in 1988 from a private collection, and expanded to offer a permanent home for exotic animals that have been abused, abandoned, neglected or confiscated from owners unwilling or unable to provide proper care.
“Nahla here is known as the Conroe tiger,” IEAS Executive Director Jeremy Vargo said. “She was found wandering in the streets down in Conroe with a collar and leash. She’d gotten out. She was privately owned.”
Vargo said Nahla was placed in the sanctuary because of its outstanding reputation.
Vargo: “She just enjoys life here so it’s great to see she’s gotten to come here and get a good quality of life.” “You can easily get in over your head, especially if you get a lion or a tiger or any of these exotic cats when they’re young. They’re about this big when you get them, and then they start becoming this big, and then things start going sideways.”
Each day at 11 am, and again at 3 pm on Saturdays, guided tours are offered to visitors.
Just part of the tours is a back story on each animal.
Titan, a former Mexican circus tiger, was once aggressive toward people.
Vargo: “He was in a bad situation and the U.S. Government because they were on American soil, they went and confiscated him, and he was brought to our facility.”
Vargo said Odin, a majestic, male lion was once a photo- op animal.
Vargo: “A lot of stress, exposure to diseases. Sometimes they’re kept hungry so they’ll focus on that bottle.” “Saber came to us, he was going to be a photo for profit animal. So, basically you go and take your picture with a lion or tiger cub kind of setup, and instead he got to escape that life and was raised here from about 10 weeks old or so when he got here.”
Originally, the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary focused on exotic felines, but it’s grown substantially and expanded since then.
In fact, there are around 30 bears there today.
Vargo: “Grizzlies are digging bears, and they have a natural hump on their front shoulders that helps basically make them living bulldozers because they love digging.”
Teddy and Twinkle were brought there as young cubs.
Vargo: “Bears being bears, occasionally they will go and dig their own dens for the winter. So, we have some natural bear dens.”
When they’re not hibernating, Vargo said the bears eat everything we eat.
Vargo: “They’re omnivorous, so fruits, vegetables, meats. Everything like that.”
One of the great things for the sanctuary and cost cutting measures is that area grocery stores from Boyd to Bridgeport, all the way down to Fort Worth, donate their older food items, items that would otherwise be thrown away. Everything from eggs to grapes, pork chops, strawberries, avocados, you name it, and Jeremy said the great thing really is too it’s a win – win for the whole community.
Jeremy Vargo: “It’s highly valuable to us because it helps fully feed 30 bears and the community gets to see how they’re working with the community. It gets to learn about us. Everybody wins.”
“It’s a great place to learn lots of things about exotic animals”, said Amanda Gerber, from Kansas.
Gerber’s one of several interns at IEAS from all over the country who live on- site and wake up with the animals each day.
“It’s almost uncanny how some of these cats act like your normal house cats,” said Grant Piepkorn, an IEAS intern from Minnesota. “The cats behind us, Con and Kiki love to roll around. They paw at one another. They love to play.”
“The animal behavior part is awesome,” Allie Tamouzian, an IEAS intern from California said. “What we get to witness here every day is cool.”
Vargo: “This is the only instance of allowing a breeding to occur here, and it was done for the emotional and social well- being of them. Wolves are very much pack- oriented.”
Gerber: “You hear all these sounds that just sound surreal at first because you’re not hearing wolves howling in your neighborhood. You’re not hearing a lion roar in your neighborhood and then to come here where you’re immersed in this environment….”
Vargo: “Every morning especially and several times at night, he will do a territorial call and you can ask people in the local area. It can reverberate upwards of 5 miles.”
Those who come to IEAS often just come to sit and relax and enjoy companionship with the animals.
It’s where the sanctuary works hard to offer as close as possible a natural, fulfilling life for the animal residents, and where the focus now is not so much on their past but on a long and healthy, stress- free future.
The certified sanctuary is completely run on donations.
Here’s a link to set up a guided tour and see all of the species. Also, you could become an adoptive parent!