Living Democracy

Tigers for Tomorrow educates community while giving animals a forever home

If you ever take a trip down the Dekalb County, Alabama, roads, you may find a 140-acre refuge full of assorted furry friends. Every creature has a personality, every critter has a diverse habitat, but despite their differences, every animal has two things in common: they have all been given another opportunity at life and a place to call home forever.

This is thanks to the wildlife sanctuary Tigers for Tomorrow at Untamed Mountain, at 708 County Road 345 in Attalla. Tigers for Tomorrow, a non-profit 501-c-3 Wild Animal Reserve and Environmental Educational Center, is home to over 160 animals, including tigers, mountain lions, bears, wolves, black leopards, and snakes.

"The animals are so beautiful. My family loves it here. It's so refreshing," said Jacqulina Griffin of Crossville. “From the llamas to the lions to the little sloth in the gift shop, it is amazing. It's our great escape from the troubles of the world." 

With the help of generous donations, admissions, and sponsorship programs, the facility has served as the last stop resort for wildlife animals since 1999.

Tigers for Tomorrow, whose mission is to "uphold the highest standards of care and respect for native and exotic animals in need of secure permanent homes," has become a popular site for tourists and a field trip destination for classrooms across North Alabama and surrounding areas. 

"We are actively working to bridge the divide between the community and wildlife," said Susan Steffans, owner and operator of Tigers for Tomorrow at Untamed Mountain. "We want the youth and other visitors to identify with the animals, and that way, they can begin to care about them, so they can appreciate them for who they are instead of what they are." 

The board of directors decided to relocate to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains near the town of Collinsville and the city of Fort Payne, after tangling with three hurricanes in Florida.

Since moving 15 years ago, the preserve has become a home to hundreds of animals.  The refuge has recently taken in an eight-year-old Liger (tiger and lion hybrid offspring) named Asia, who is 1 out of 100 Ligers that remain in the world www.ligerworld.com. 

One of the preserve’s most notable animal was Kazuma the Brave, a male Lion who made international headlines after being rescued from a controversial circus in Guatemala. In 2012, Steffans said, before being saved, Kazuma was described as an "old broken-down but resilient lion" that had endured a life of abuse and trauma.   

"Kazuma had been housed in the back of a pickup truck with the traveling circus for at least ten years," Steffans said. "While we were in Guatemala, people were coming up to us telling us stories about how they saw the cage being power washed by circus handlers while he was still in it." 

Kazuma was the first big cat in the country of Guatemala to be removed from a circus because of abuse and neglect. The incident led to an investigation and, in 2018, the Guatemalan government ordered a ban on circus animals. 

Steffans said Kazuma, and other animals with similar backgrounds who were rehomed at the refuge, taught her the importance of patience and forgiveness as she navigates through life. 

"There are so many lessons that we can learn from the animals. The main one would be to learn how to freely forgive and do not hold grudges against ones who have wronged us," said Steffans. 

She added, "Over the years, we have noticed that a lot of the animals here have been through a lot and come from challenging situations, but they find a way in their hearts to forgive us, and if humans were more willing to forgive, the world would be a better place."  

Wilbur McCauley, president and director of animal care, said, "The animals will always come first no matter what. The care and quality of their lives are what matters the most. This will always take precedent over what others feel in any given area. The animals' lives are our responsibility. Any decision made must benefit and protect the animals and their care."

Steffans said that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the wildlife preserve took on a new responsibility, caring for livestock. She said many local farmers were significantly affected by the impact of the virus and suffered economically.  

According to the article, “COVID-19 Effects on Livestock Production: A One Welfare Issue”, published on frontiersin.org, in 2020, there was a 45% reduction in pig processing capacity meaning about 250,000 pigs per day were not slaughtered.

This resulted in longer transport distances to plants in operation with extra capacity and crowding of animals on the farm. Though many growers were encouraged to slow growth rates, some had to cull animals on farms in manners that included suffering and caused considerable upset to farmers. 

"Even though our focus is typically on wildlife, we do not discriminate. We are here to help, so we took in the farm animals to assist with the load. "When humans need a place to stay. We have shelters. The same rule should apply for wildlife when they need a place to lay their heads," Steffans said.

"If we have space and the resources, we will properly provide a safe residence to any animals in need," Steffans said. “We work around the clock to ensure that their homes are clean and comfortable. We make sure that their lives are enriched and that they have their dignity and freedom here for the rest of their lives."

Tigers for Tomorrow at Untamed Mountain is open for general admission Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $15 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 3-11. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/tftatuntamedmountain/.

By Laney Mayfield
Last Updated: June 04, 2021