As another wave of heavy snow and ice approached, four keepers were standing guard Monday night at a sanctuary where many of Minnesota's most dangerous wildcats are kept.
The Wildcat Sanctuary is recovering from at least 2 feet of snow that fell Thursday and Friday, collapsing several enclosures that housed domestic hybrid cats, the smallest of many breeds held in captivity at the sanctuary. Lions and tigers stayed inside their concrete and steel buildings during the storm and their outdoor enclosures were undamaged, said Tammy Thies, the sanctuary's executive director.
The rural sanctuary, near Sandstone in Pine County, is a nonprofit refuge for lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, lynx and other big cats that once were private pets and public safety threats in several Minnesota counties.
The sanctuary is accredited and enclosures are built to zoo standards in an effort to prevent escapes resulting from natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods and fires, Thies said. The sanctuary implemented its crisis plan Friday, she said, with staff and volunteers examining the sanctuary for possible security breaches.
"If an enclosure is compromised at all we automatically presume the animals are out," said Holly Henry, the sanctuary's communications manager.
Monday night, another 7 to 10 inches of ice and heavy snow was expected to fall at the sanctuary, Henry said, adding to numerous other big snowfalls from there north to Duluth that have made many rural roads impassable.
Thies said the collapsed outdoor enclosures didn't break open when snow and ice accumulated on top of their wire roofs. "The enclosures are designed to concave when damaged," she said. "And that is exactly what happened. All the cats were snuggled safely in their buildings and dens, avoiding the elements."
Five enclosures could need replacement and several more, including quarantine areas, need repairs, Thies said.
The smaller hybrid cats — Asian leopards bred with domestic cats — are wild and unsuitable for private ownership but they aren't dangerous, Henry said.
The sanctuary isn't open to the public and is funded through private donations. More information is available at www.wildcatsanctuary.org or on the sanctuary's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wildcatsanctuary.