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St. Augustine Wild Reserve turns to community support amid pandemic visitor decline

Lions, tigers, and bears in the nation's oldest city need your help. A wildlife sanctuary in St. Augustine has been taking in these animals when no one else will, but now it's struggling to keep these animals fed.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lions, tigers, bears, and many other animals in the nation’s oldest city need your help.

One St. Augustine animal reserve takes them in when they have nowhere to go, but it is now struggling to stay afloat.

“We take in tigers, lions, leopards, cougars, hyenas, and all kinds of large carnivores,” said Deborah Warrick, Founder, and CEO of the St. Augustine Wild Reserve. “We do animal rescue, just exotic animals the big stuff. We get them mainly from Florida Fish and Wildlife or federally from USDA. They will seize these animals from people who smuggle them into Florida illegally.”

Warrick has been rescuing animals since 1981 and her efforts all started with a skydiving accident.

“I used to be a skydiver and in one of my jumps, I broke my back. And my skydiving instructor gave me a wolf puppy as a get-well present and that’s what started my rescue efforts with wolves. Which I did for about 20 years and then I graduated to the big cats in the 1990s,” said Warrick.

Since the early 1980s, she has rescued between 400 to 500 animals.

Currently, there are nearly 80 animals on the property, requiring anywhere from 3 to 4,000 dollars a week to feed and take care of.

But with the ongoing pandemic, Warrick says she needs more community support.

“If it weren’t up to me and there’s a few other rescues here in Florida too that do a good job, but without us Fish and Wildlife they don’t have the means to take care of a big tiger or a lion they would most likely be put down. I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Warrick.

“How has the pandemic affected your efforts?” said Lena Pringle

“Before the pandemic, we would have at least 100 people on each of our tours, so things were great and then the pandemic hit, and we had to cut back to just 10 people on our tours so that was last year,” said Warrick.

Warrick says things are picking back up.

Tours have increased to 75 people per ride, but she says the reserve still needs help, so it never has to turn an animal away.

“Whenever Fish and Wildlife or USDA call me, and they have an animal we’ll take it. Even if we don’t have a cage yet, we’ll build a cage,” said Warrick.

The St. Augustine Wild Reserve’s annual fundraiser is at the beginning of November, starting with a silent auction.

The auction will last from October 24th through November 6th.

In the meantime, the reserve currently needs monetary donations, refrigerators, building materials, and a tractor.

You can find more information about the reserve and its fundraiser here.

About the Author:

Anchors the 4:30 a.m. newscast, provides traffic updates throughout the rest of The Morning Show, then reports on events in the community.