The young mountain lion is being introduced to the public at Animal Ark’s 27th anniversary celebration today. The anniversary coincides with the animal sanctuary’s grand re-opening for the spring season.
“We call him Milagro, the Spanish word for miracle, because it is a miracle he is here,” Courts said.
Through the past 27 years, the animal sanctuary has expanded from a desolate grouping of half a dozen animals to a 38-acre compound.
“When we started out this was just a mom-and-pop operation,” Ark co-founder and executive director Aaron Hiibel said. “We were funded out of pocket for the first eight years. Now it takes about $300,000 per year to run Animal Ark.”
The animal sanctuary is now home to 22 animal exhibits , Hiibel said.
Through his years at the Ark, one repeating image keeps Hiibel interested in what he is doing.
“What I remember is the kid who watches the tiger jump up on a log, and there is that grin,” Hiibel said. “They (the kids) are the future of wildlife conservation.”
Animal Ark’s operations are funded through admission fees, gift shop sales, an animal sponsorship program and grants.
“A big part of what we do is the educational aspect,” Hiibel said. “We are booked constantly with the Washoe County School District for tours.”
On Friday morning as Courts hiked up the dusty path toward the bears, no school children were around but volunteers were busy working to prepare for the new season.
“Yogi came here at two years old,” Courts said as she pointed to the black bear, who pulled himself up onto a huge log. It was lunch time and the bear devoured a bunch of grapes in one gulp.
The bear has been living at the sanctuary for 19 years, after a couple in Washoe Valley decided that the bear did not make a good pet.
“They had him de-clawed,” Courts said. “Then they still didn’t want him so they let him go in the wild. Because he was de-clawed, he couldn’t survive in the wild, so we adopted him.”
Yogi had recently awoken from a long hibernation period, a behavior that Courts talks about with amazement.
“In the wild they literally sleep all (season) long,” Courts said. “They don’t eat while hibernating, they don’t exercise and they give birth while they are sleeping. The babies just cuddle up in their mother’s fur and eat when they need to.”
She added that scientists are studying black bears because they do not loose any muscle mass while remaining sedentary during their 100-day sleep.
Each animal at Animal Ark has a story, Courts said.
Tonka, a 13-year-old mountain lion, has called the sanctuary home since 1999. The retired magic show cat was hand raised and performed under stage lights since he was a baby. Then one day he decided that he just didn’t want to perform anymore, Courts said. So he ended up at Animal Ark where he is treated just like a wild animal.
“All of our animals are wild and we try to respect that,” Courts said. “We don’t go into the enclosure with them.”
Hiibel is careful to make the distinction that Animal Ark is not a zoo.
“We are a sanctuary because none of these animals can be re-introduced into the wild,” Hiibel said.
Now that he is recovering from his injuries, Milo the mountain lion has found a permanent home at Animal Ark.
Animal Ark is located in the distant hills around Red Rock. From Highway 395 take the Red Rock Road exit and go east. Animal Ark is located on Deerlodge Road. Tours are available from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday from April 1 through Oct. 31.