A children’s mini-farm has expanded to accommodate unwanted zoo and circus animals, as well as those confiscated by authorities or salvaged from labs.
La Tanière zoo, based near Chartres in northern France, was founded by Patrick and Francine Violas as a refuge for farm animals and set up with their own savings.
However, when they realized the scale of the demand, they realized it wasn’t just farm animals that needed rescuing, and the project expanded, the spokeswoman said. of the sanctuary, Sophie Fernandes-Petitot.
The mini-farm, with sheep, goats, a donkey, a pony and barnyard birds, still exists, but the zoo is also home to around 600 wild animals of around 50 different species.
He has already rescued 1,200 animals, relocating many of them to other animal shelters.
“We have lots of exotic birds and small monkeys. It usually takes half a day for visitors to see everything,” says Fernandes-Petitot.
Animals often pass through French authorities, who confiscate wild animals when they are illegally imported or held, or mistreated.
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About 10% of the zoo’s inhabitants come from laboratories across the EU.
“Lab animals include primates and cows, and we are currently planning to take delivery of 250 rabbits, which we will put into private adoption with families once we have verified that they are in good health.”
Other animals arrive because their owners have died or can no longer afford to keep them. “We don’t take reptiles or pets. There are already many other charities doing this. However, we accept zoo animals that are too old, sick or disabled to be kept.
“Keeping animals like this is expensive, but we don’t count the cost. We are not a commercial organization,” says Fernandes-Petitot.
“Obviously the money raised from the sale of tickets to the zoo pays to keep it running, but there’s no imperative to make a profit.”
The zoo covers 20 hectares, 14 of which are open to the public. The rest are either under construction or behind the scenes, including the veterinary clinic, quarantine quarters, food stores, supplies, workshops, offices, and staff facilities.
The opening of the zoo has been delayed by the pandemic, but last summer it attracted good numbers of visitors, despite having to juggle various restrictions. Only two zoo animals are not saved – a pair of young male Asian elephants. Most parks don’t allow bull elephants because they can be so unpredictable.
Unlike other animals, elephants do not belong in the zoo.
“Once they reach sexual maturity, they will leave us and join the European breeding program,” explains Ms Fernandes-Petitot.
All European elephants are registered and breeding is done with great care to maintain the best possible genetic diversity. The goal is to be able to send males back to Asia.
The zoo has space for four male elephants and facilities to separate them, if necessary.
This is often the case when ‘musthing’ a bull elephant. Beginning around age 12, males periodically enter musth, during which their testosterone levels increase by up to 60% and they become violent and dangerous. Musth elephants have been known to kill other elephants and even their own calves. They will attack keepers and other animals and should be kept isolated until their musth has passed. The must is not always associated with breeding.
Unlike other parks, because the zoo only accepts rescue animals, they don’t have a plan for collecting them.
“We don’t know in advance what animals we will have.
“We sterilize all of them when they arrive, unless they are an endangered species, in which case we will give them contraception.
“The only time any of our animals have babies is when a female arrives already pregnant.”
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Besides many small primates, the zoo is home to lions, tigers, leopards, bears and sea lions. There is a large aviary for parrots and other exotic birds, in which visitors can wander, and the zoo also has bison, wallabies, baboons and storks.
“In France, traveling circuses are prohibited from keeping wild animals, so we are already receiving offers of cats, camels and wild monkeys.”
Circus animals need very secure shelters and experienced caretakers because they are often psychologically affected, explains Ms Fernandes-Petitot.
“We have two former circus workers here who understand their needs, as well as specialist veterinarians and caretakers.
“We practice medical training, that is to say, we train them to accept care.
“For example, we can take weekly blood samples from our tigers, without having to anesthetize them. They are used to entering the cash register, used to having their tails manipulated.
“It only takes 15 minutes and they stay pretty calm during the process, knowing they’ll get a treat at the end.”
La Tanière aims to develop an educational component in the future.
“We are already trying to teach visiting classes how not to take care of animals.
“We explain very clearly how our animals got here. Some of their stories are pretty sad: we explain the labs, the traffickers, the exotic birds found in a house, the lions growing up disabled because they were declawed as cubs to be used for photos, so now they’re limping.
“We just hope that if we educate children, they won’t do these things as adults,” says Fernandes-Petitot.
The zoo is open on weekends in January and every day during school holidays from February until autumn. For more information, see lataniere-zoorefuge.fr.
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