Ensign-Scroggins gives exotic animals home
Cherokee Nation citizen Lori Ensign-Scroggins performs a quick checkup on a Canadian lynx while working at Safari’s Sanctuary, which she founded in 1995, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Two Paw, a tiger at Safari’s Sanctuary, was originally purchased as a pet. Cherokee Nation citizen Lori Ensign-Scroggins founded the nonprofit volunteer wildlife sanctuary and cares for more than 180 animals including lions, bears, snakes, lemurs, wolves and monkeys. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Hemi is a rambunctious 9-month-old, 170-pound cub with an affinity for the tub of water in his enclosure. The tiger is the first cub that Safari’s Sanctuary owner Lori Ensign-Scroggins has taken. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Safari’s Sanctuary is home to numerous animals including Apollo, a male wolf that came to the sanctuary after his owners could no longer physically or mentally care for him. The neglect left Apollo and his mate, River, timid and skittish of most humans. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – Since 1995, Safari’s Sanctuary has provided refuge to exotic animals that cannot be taken by zoos or returned to the wild. Cherokee Nation citizen Lori Ensign-Scroggins founded the nonprofit volunteer wildlife sanctuary and cares for more than 180 animals including lions, tigers, bears, snakes, lemurs, wolves and monkeys.
It took her purchasing an exotic animal from a breeder to open her eyes to the consequences of doing so.
“They ran ads in the Tulsa World for bobcats for sale, and I thought it was cool,” she said. “I was 18, and that just seemed awesome. So I bought one and had it in Tulsa city limits in my bedroom, litter box-trained as a pet.”
What the breeder did not tell her was that owning a bobcat inside city limits was illegal.
“In a nutshell, I was one of the bad people,” she said. “It was ignorance. I did not know. The breeders don’t tell you when they’re selling them. They want the money, so you have to learn it all yourself. You don’t get an owner’s manual.”
Ensign-Scroggins said exotic animal ownership has skyrocketed since the internet’s rise, which makes it easy to have an exotic animal delivered to a home. Most of her animals come from roadside zoos, exotic animal auctions or individual owners, and because of either domestication or injuries, they can never enter the wild.
“These guys have been in captivity their whole life,” she said. “They’ve been in human hands since the day they were born. They don’t know wild. They don’t miss it because they never had it.”
A tiger named Two Paw was a family pet before finding sanctuary with Ensign-Scroggins. His name stems from the condition of his back left paw, which lacks several digits after the family that purchased him tried to have him declawed.
“They just assumed that it would be an extraction of the nails just like a regular domestic cat and they’re much deeper,” she said. “They’re cutting off the digits and they didn’t follow through and it got infected and they had to go back and amputate. He’s permanently disfigured.”
A fellow Safari’s Sanctuary tiger is Hemi – a 9-month-old, 170-pound cub with an affinity for the tub of water in his enclosure.
Ensign-Scroggins said she saved Hemi after his breeder quit making money off him as he aged.
“He was going to get incinerated,” she said. “The guy who owned him had an incinerator on his property and just constantly bred tiger cubs so he can have them on hand so he can make millions of dollars.”
The sanctuary is also home to wolves, including River and Apollo, a mated pair owned by an older couple that became physically and mentally unable to care for the animals.
“They never cleaned their cage, and it was over a foot and a half deep in feces and urine,” said Ensign-Scroggins. “They had burns up their legs from urine. Their hair was falling out. They mostly fed them leftovers so what they got was carbs, bread, pasta, junk. They were super skinny, super afraid.”
For these animals, Ensign-Scroggins said sanctuaries like hers are the last stop before euthanasia.
“Big zoos cannot take them,” she said. “They only have a set bloodline, so they won’t take a rescued tiger or whatever because they don’t know the bloodline to the wild for breeding purposes.”
Joe Barkowski, Tulsa Zoo vice president of Animal Conservation and Science, said accepting exotic animals is rare for his organization because of various factors, including available resources and genetic diversity.
“The Tulsa Zoo works with law enforcement and regulatory agencies when needed to assist with confiscated exotic animals, however, the zoo does not regularly accept unwanted exotic animals from the public,” he said. “Our breeding programs, too, are carefully coordinated in compliance with the standards of our accrediting body, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, and with genetic diversity in mind.“
For individuals interested in owning exotic animals, Ensign-Scroggins suggests coming to her sanctuary and volunteering to get their fix or at least a hands-on experience. She said if individuals did either, it would likely deter most from wanting an exotic animal because of logistical factors.
“You have to research it, know their diets, know what you’re going to be doing, knowing where you’re going to be living, if you’re going to have the caging for it and housing in the winter. It’s a lot of little things you might not think about up front,” she said.
Ensign-Scroggins said she would eventually like to leave her sanctuary to someone affiliated with the CN in hopes that the tribe would continue her work.
The sanctuary is partly funded by a “Zoo 2 You” program, which for a fee brings certain animals to parties and events to educate the public. For more information, visit www.safarisanctuary.org