Alpine Big Cat Sanctuary Mourns the Death of Some of Its First Rescues: Tabu and Bakari

In August 2002, Bobbi Brink discovered that wildlife authorities were about to confiscate a pair of tigers that had lived for five years in an unshaded 6ft by 12ft chain link cage in the backyard of a a man from Texas.

Brink, who had been involved in rescuing exotic animals since the early 1990s, knew she had to act quickly to give these animals the permanent sanctuary they deserved. So within 30 days, Brink and her husband, Mark, secured the permits, transportation and land – a pen on a friend’s 93-acre property in Alpine – to give the tigers, Raja and Natasha, a forever peaceful home. The arrival of the beasts at Alpine in September 2002 marked the beginning of Lions, tigers and bears, a sanctuary and sanctuary for felines and exotic animals of the Brinks which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next fall.

What the Brinks didn’t know at the time was that Natasha was pregnant, and on November 8, 2002, she gave birth to two female cubs, Sitarra and Tabu, who remain the only animals ever born on the property as of 24402 Martin Way, which the Brinks eventually purchased as the nonprofit’s permanent home.

Natasha and Raja died many years ago and Sitarra passed away in 2013. Then earlier this month, the last member of the shrine’s First Family, Tabu, died on January 7. Two days later, the Brinks were also forced to euthanize Bakari, an African Lion who came to the property with his two sisters when he was 4 weeks old in 2007. Both animals had chronic health issues. age related.

Louie, an 18-year-old lion, rests in the sun Friday, Jan. 21, at Lions, Tigers & Bears, an exotic animal sanctuary near Alpine that rescues big cats and bears.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Brink said saying goodbye to two of the park’s oldest and oldest residents was heartbreaking.

“It’s super hard every time you lose these animals, but they don’t live as long as we do,” she said. “Tabu was a 20-year-old tiger, and they only live 13 or 14 years in the wild. And Bakari was an older man with degenerative disc disease. He was in a lot of pain. He was a big guy, 610 pounds. You couldn’t visit the shrine without hearing it.

Over the past two decades, the Brinks have built Lions, Tigers & Bears at one of six nationally accredited big cat and bear sanctuaries by the World Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the American Sanctuary Association. The sanctuary is a no-kill, no-breed, no-contact facility that now houses 63 animals from 17 species, including four lions, four tigers, five bobcats and nine bears.

It costs about $4,000 a day to feed Lions, Tigers & Bears animals, and the pandemic has made fundraising difficult. But Brink said that for the first time in three years they will hold their annual Wild in the Country gala on May 21, which in pre-pandemic years raised enough money to cover three to four months of operating costs.

“We are hanging on there right now. We are doing what we can to raise funds,” she said.

Conga the leopard at Lions, Tigers & Bears big cat and exotic animal rescue near Alpine.

Conga, a leopard from Lions, Tigers & Bears big cat and exotic animal rescue near Alpine, licks his lips after a raw chicken snack on Friday. She arrived at the sanctuary in 2004 after being abandoned by her owners.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

High on Brink’s wish list would be a new laser machine to help treat animals with arthritic joints and a digital X-ray machine for the property’s on-site medical clinic. She would also like to build a shed or gazebo to display the photos and cremation urns of Tabu, Bakari and all the other animals who lived their last days on the property.

Although the public can visit Lions, Tigers & Bears for behind-the-scenes tours and special events, it has nothing to do with a zoo, animal show or circus. In fact, Brink has spent much of his time over the past 25 years working to save big cats and bears from deplorable conditions in roadside zoos, exotic animal breeding facilities and tent circuses. Over the years, she has coordinated the rescue of over 600 big cats, bears and wolves and assisted in the relocation of hundreds more.

In October, she was honored for her animal advocacy work at the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce‘s 19th Annual Women in Leadership event. Kristine Costa, host of the event, said Brink “has been working with and advocating for big cats, bears and other exotic animals in captivity since the early 90s, after witnessing firsthand the abuse and negligence inflicted on captive animals victimized by the exotic pet trade”.

Bobbi Brink of Lions, Tigers & Bears Exotic Animal Rescue near Alpine visits with Liberty, a black bear.

Bobbi Brink, founder and director of the Lions, Tigers & Bears exotic animal rescue near Alpine, visits Liberty, a black bear who was removed from the Los Angeles National Forest because she was become too adept at taking food from campers, which could be dangerous to animals and humans.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)


Brink, who is the founder and director of Lions, Tigers & Bears, said the biggest challenge these wild animals face comes from well-meaning people who buy them as docile little ones, mistakenly believing the animals will make good pets or can be used as a tourist attraction to earn money.

“These animals don’t make good pets. They have triggers. They may look like a giant puppy, but something like bright lights or loud sounds can cause them to become the wild animals they are,” she said.

Brink said she works with a network of agencies to organize rescues, including sheriff’s departments, state fish and wildlife officials, wildlife parks and individual owners who abandon their animals. exotic pets. She is often demoralized by the state of the animals upon her arrival.

“A lot of them are dirty,” she said. “I’ve taken them out of people’s basements, tied to a pole in backyards, garages, dining rooms and horse trailers. People may have good intentions but have no idea of ​​the cost and what it takes to take care of them.

Suri, an African lion, at Lions, Tigers & Bears, a feline and exotic animal rescue sanctuary near Alpine.

Suri, an African lion, has lived since 2007 at Lions, Tigers & Bears, a feline and exotic animal rescue sanctuary near Alpine.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Brink said there are also many unaccredited exotic animal parks in the United States that breed a surplus of animals that have nowhere to go, so many disappear. One of the most notorious such facilities, Oklahoma’s Tiger King Park featured in the 2020 Netflix documentary “Tiger King,” was shut down by federal authorities last May for violating cash law in Endangered. Brink was on hand when the park closed last year and brought in three large trucks to transport some of the big cats to new sanctuaries across the country.

Despite Tabu and Bakari’s deaths, Brink said it didn’t open up any new space to save more tigers or lions. Tabu shared habitat with Hank, an elderly white tiger rescued from a breeding center in Ohio in 2015. And Bakari lived with his sisters, Jillian and Suri, who arrived with him as cubs 15 years ago. year. Brink said these cats are now too old to attempt new introductions with other animals.

“Building habitats is a big expense,” Brink said. “We have managed to build one or two new habitats per year. If we can properly house these animals for life, we will keep them, but we have a responsibility to support this animal for life.

For more information on Lions, Tigers and Bears, visit

Hank, a 19-year-old white tiger, soaks up the sun at the Lions, Tigers & Bears big cat and exotic animal rescue near Alpine.

Hank, a 19-year-old white tiger, soaks up the sun at the Lions, Tigers & Bears big cat and exotic animal rescue near Alpine on Friday, January 21. He was rescued in 2016 from a tiger breeding center in Ohio.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Comments are closed.