A gr-r-reat place for carnivores

BERLIN CENTER -- Saber the mountain lion bares his teeth. He's a cranky sort.
In a pen next door, Hissy the serval, an African wildcat, hisses as she paces to and fro.
Tigers Jax and Nook are the frisky sort. Timber wolves Noshoba and Apache like to fight. Jake the black bear is a junk food junkie who likes to splash in the water.
An African Lion named Kenya -- but called Kenny -- hides like a recluse on this humid June day, slinking into a shaded shelter.
These carnivores with personality are all part of the family at Noah's Lost Ark, an animal sanctuary that is home to more than 125 exotic animals.
They also are part of the sanctuary's new Large Cat and Carnivore Compound, scheduled to open Saturday for public viewing. Ellen Whitestone, founder and president of the nonprofit, volunteer-run sanctuary, said the penned animals will be at a safe distance from visitors, but closer than animals are usually kept at a zoo.
"I think if they get a closer look, they'll develop some respect for the animals and maybe they'll want to save them," Whitestone said.
How it started: Eleven years ago, Whitestone and her husband, Doug, began housing exotic animals that had been hunted, brought to America and sold a pets. Many of the animals had been abandoned, abused or confiscated, or were just too much for their owners. Three years ago, Noah's Lost Ark was opened.
Saber, the 9-year-old mountain lion, was brought to the sanctuary by an owner who did not have enough time to spend with the animal. Saber once chewed a hole through a wall in his owner's house -- after the man got married, Saber didn't want to be shut out of the bedroom, Whitestone said.
Apache and Noshoba came to live at Noah's Lost Ark after their owner had received threats from neighbors who wanted to shoot or poison the timber wolves.
Hissy and her sister Prissy -- looking like two dog-size tigers -- are two of six remaining servals that a woman had bought for $75,000. As they began dying one by one, the woman chose to give the remaining pair to Whitestone's group.
Nook, an 18-month-old Siberian tiger, weighs in at 350 pounds. He'll reach 800 pounds before he's full grown. He is the sanctuary's biggest eater, consuming 10 to 15 pounds of meat daily. He was confiscated when sellers at an exotic animal sale were attempting to illegally peddle him, Whitestone said.
Jax, even younger than Nook, is a Bengal tiger who was found after a drug raid. His ears had been cut up by owners. Now, he is playful and feisty as he paws at Whitestone, who tries to lure him to a pen by his leash using an ostrich egg "ball" to coax the animal.
"He's like a typical kid," she said. "He gets wound up."
Kenny, from Africa, was donated by a couple who bought him as a pet and gave him up after he ate their couch and turned other parts of the home to trash.
And Jake, who nibbles dandelions but favors candy, was donated to the sanctuary from a breeder after being rejected as "untrainable" by a circus group.
Whitestone said many animals like these face danger from poachers who hunt them illegally for their value as exotic pets and as hunting trophies.
" ... If we don't start telling people that they should be taken care of, that they should be valued more," Whitestone said, "then they're going to be extinct."
The sanctuary at 8424 Bedell Road is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, through Oct. 31. Costs are $4.50 for children, $5.50 for adults.
Volunteers and donations of cash, meat, produce, fencing, shelters and building materials are needed to keep the sanctuary operating. Call (330) 584-7835 for details.

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