If you’re a big cat lover, this interview is for you. Ian Ford works at the WildCat Ridge Sanctuary, where his co-workers consist of lions, tigers, and cheetahs that have been rescued from unsafe living environments. You may recognize him from his recent stint on Animal Planet (see photo). The Sanctuary provides a lifelong home for these incredible cats in Oregon. Although the Sanctuary is not open to the public, you can read more about their furry residents here.
Can you give us some background on the exploitation of wildcats?
Well, big cats are popular and have been for a long time. People want to see them and, if possible, touch and pet them. As such, illegal breeding is a HUGE issue since these animals are really only "safe" to be handled for a very brief window of time. Cubs are taken from their mothers immediately after birth and both the mother and the cub suffer as a result of human intervention. Humans seem to think that an animal only has worth if it can be used to benefit or entertain people. Wildcats are not meant to be used as props or for making money. All of our rescues came from that kind of existence so our focus is on just letting them be cats in as natural an environment as possible. For reference, please watch "The Elephant In The Living Room" featuring our good friend Tim Harrison. It's heartbreaking to see so many medical problems that have come just from a-holes trying to make a wind animal "safer". The cats are always the ones who suffer the most.
What kind of animals reside at the Sanctuary, and where do they come from?
We have around 80 residents total, with 11 of those what we consider "big cats" (tigers, lions, cougars and cheetahs). They are all rescues for the most part and they were all someone's pet at one time. Many have been declawed and they almost all have at least one significant medical condition that requires constant care. Our rescues have come from literally all over the world, but almost all came from private owners who thought that a wild animal would be a cool pet. Four of our residents originated from the facility in Oklahoma formerly owned and operated by Joe Exotic.
How do you promote the idea that wild animals should never be pets?
Education is everything. All of our messaging reinforces our belief that Wild Means Wild. Our facility is not open to the public and we are a hands-off Sanctuary. Our purpose is to provide our rescues with a natural environment where they can live out their life in peace. We consider ourselves a retirement home for captive born animals. Our keepers and staff do an incredible job of utilizing social media to share the individual personalities of our residents to help spread the word to a larger audience. Recently, a video they created and shared on TikTok went viral and has racked up more than 50 millions views...it's Kariba and a pair of feeding tongs. We also took part in a special for Animal Planet in 2020 that discussed some of the animals that made it out of the GW Zoo. "Surviving Joe Exotic" features the story of our lions, Chobe and Kariba.
What is the best part of your job?
Besides hearing a tiger greet you with a hearty chuff and hearing the lions talking to each other (loudly), it's just heartwarming to see an animal go from being afraid of everything to rolling around on the grass with their paws up and not a care in the world. That's powerful. I've also had the opportunity to meet lots of truly incredible and inspiring people along the way, like the aforementioned Tim Harrison and a wonderful pro athlete that plays for our local NBA team who absolutely loves animals. Seeing so many different kinds of people come together for a cause is inspiring.