This past week I spent my time visiting the non profit organization the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary in Punta Gorda, Florida. The entrance fee to get in pays for the rescued animals’ food, veterinary needs, and any other needs for the sanctuary itself to care for the animals. The Octagon has all sorts of exotic animals including alligators, tigers, lions, wolves, bears, leopards, cougars, foxes, various birds and primates totaling over 200 animals. All of the animals that have been brought to the Octagon have been born and raised in captivity their whole lives. Octagon works to rescue and rehabilitate these animals as best as they can by caring for the animals. The animals are brought to Octagon by the Florida Fish and Wildlife, USDA and people who can no longer care for their exotic pet(s). Without the helping hands of Octagon these animals would have been euthanized and never been given a second chance. Most of the animals are older and have been used in circuses, carnivals, mistreated at zoos, or were a parandf any other act of animal abuse.
Zulu (pictured above) was born in 2001 and arrived at Octagon in 2002. He was rescued from his last owner who kept him in a large dog crate, fed him dog food, and was attempting to “dwarf” the lion to create a unique exhibit. As a result, some of his skin rubbed off and will not grow back. He arrived under-nourished and very small, so Octagon put him on a high protein/vitamin diet, and he grew up to his normal size. He doesn’t like strangers, but once he gets to know you, he becomes quite friendly. I don’t know about you, but I think Zulu is one unique lion. If I were him and had gone through what he did, I’m just not sure I would be able to trust another human being again. Zulu showed me that forgiveness is what moving on is all about.
Parvita (pictured above) was used by his first owner to make money by having the public get photos taken with him while he was a cub. They only fed him milk from a bottle for the first year of his life to try and keep him from getting aggressive as most exotics do when you introduce raw meat in their diets. Not giving a regular meat diet will make a cub develop hip, back, and leg problems, along with not being able to digest bones from their food. Onyx is on prednisone to help reduce swelling throughout his body. Octagon gives Parvita mineral oil every week to help his food digest. The second owner was supposed to have him only for a few days and then, under orders of the first owner, have him euthanized. The second owners couldn’t do it. They brought him to Octagon in April 2009. He was born in 2002 but has the body/ teeth of a 17 year old. Parvita has many strips and they all tell a different story of his life.
It’s hard to imagine the life all of these animals have lived. When I walked through the Octagon wildlife sanctuary, I saw heart broken animals who are bored and restricted to cage living. Because of the selfish decision of the animals’ past “caretakers”, these animals will never live a life in the wild intended for them. They will forever live inside of a cage and never roam the African plain. They will forever be handed their food and never catch the prey of their choice. They will forever be looked at inside cages like a display of entertainment and never experience their instinctual behaviors. This is not Octagons fault, they are merely saving the animals life by preventing it from being euthanized and providing it with medical attention. Rather, there are not enough strict laws to prevent the selling, buying, and illegal trading of exotic animals, such as Zulu and Parvita.
As a person who loves to take wildlife photography, it was very hard for me to take these photos. Not because of how the fence would look in my pictures, but because a fence was surrounding an animal who has lived a horrible life. The Octagon wildlife sanctuary is not a zoo. It’s a refuge for the animals who deserve so much more. It’s not a place where you go with your children and come out happy, it’s a place where you come out in a somber mood and you realize the importance of your responsibility on this planet to all of God’s living creatures.