Two Dade City sisters just moved to Montana.
There’s more to the story, of course. The sisters, Jasmine and Sophie, are 2-year-old Siberian tigers who were born at Dade City’s Wild Things, an ecotourism sanctuary zoo located at 37245 Meridian Ave. And they moved to Montana because they were donated to ZooMontana, a zoo in Billings to rejuvenate their tiger exhibit, which had just lost its only tiger due to cancer.
“They weren’t interested in breeding and they didn’t want babies,” said Kathy Stearns, director at Dade City’s Wild Things. ZooMontana “wanted young tigers that would be well-adjusted, and being that our tigers have worked with people, they were very adjusted.”
Dade City’s Wild Things does exhibit their own animals, but that’s just a part of their mission. In addition to rescuing and adopting animals, often providing lifetime care, they also breed and supply other zoos when they can meet their needs. In this case, the tigers were deemed to be a good fit, so they arrived in Billings last week.
Determining a good fit is something Stearns takes seriously. She said that before any animals go to another facility, representatives from Dade City’s Wild Things will visit the location to check living arrangements for size and safety. They also get a feel for the receiving location’s philosophy and ability to handle the animals.
And in the case of the tigers, handlers will stay there for a day or two after they arrive to make sure the transition is smooth, the animals are adjusting, and all questions and concerns have been addressed. They also will monitor their progress in the future to make sure the sisters are doing well in their new home.
But even without the tigers, there are still plenty of other animals to care for in Dade City. They have a wide variety of residents living on their 22-acre facility, including bears, alligators and lions. They also house the infamous “Mystery Monkey,” a rhesus macaque who had been on the loose in the Tampa Bay area for more than three years and had gained quasi-celebrity status before being captured in 2012.
Dade City’s Wild Things is open like a regular zoo and has animals on exhibit. Education, however, is paramount, and that becomes evident in their tours.
“One thing that we do a little different is that ours (are) always guided,” Stears said. “We have people that go (with visitors) because we want to educate, we want people to learn about the animals. So instead of a free walk-around, you’re going to have guides that actually go with you and talk to you about the animals.”
Stearns believes the tigers are a good fit for their new home, and will help create an interesting and informative exhibit in Montana. And helping provide that information to zoo-goers around the country is in-line with her organization’s mission of keeping the public educated as well as entertained.
“That’s what we’re all about is education, and getting people to be aware of these animals and their plight in the wild,” Stearns said. “So we want people to be able to see these animals. People can’t afford to go to Africa to see a lion. The whole point of zoos is to educate.”
Dade City’s Wild Things has more than 200 animals on display, surrounded by a botanical garden landscape. Walking tours and tram rides are available, as well as some hands-on encounters.
For more information, call (352) 567-9453, or visit DadeCitysWildThings.com.
Published May 28, 2014