One wild time: Fall festival continues this weekend at ‘Tiger Farm’

By Brandon Evans | Published Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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Are you stronger than a striped jungle cat?

PUMPKINS AND STRIPES – A troop of festive lemurs awaits visitors to the Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE) in Bridgeport during the Fall Festival that continues over the next three weekends. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Hands gripped the fire hose, biceps bulged and feet were planted firmly in the clay. The human made a valiant effort against the beast. But a simple step backward by the tiger, with jaws clenched clinched tight as a clamp into the other end of the hose, pulled the challenger forward as easy as an ogre would tug a Chihuahua on a leash.

Alex Brandonisio, a six-year volunteer at the Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE) in Bridgeport, tried his might against giant feline J.P. in tiger tug-of-war. It demonstrated how powerful these impressive animals are. And it’s just one of the many activities people can enjoy at the CARE 2012 Fall Festival, which continues to run through the next three weekends.

What started out as research has turned into a fun challenge for people and tiger alike.

“We work with the University of New York at Buffalo, and we were measuring jaw pressure and bite strength,” said Heidi Berry, CARE director. “It started as a research project … The cats love it. It’s a great enrichment tool.”

It’s also another way to interact with the majestic cats at CARE. The facility, which cares for abandoned and abused big cats, houses 35 orange and white tigers, seven cougars, five black and spotted leopards, three African lions, one snow leopard – and they recently acquired a troop of lemurs.

The festival features tiger tug-of-war, as well as a chance to feed some of the animals and see big cats play with a pumpkin. Tours also include a special appearance by two of the newest additions, a pair of lion cubs named Noel and Mwali.

Tours for the Fall Fest start at noon and 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday on Oct. 20 and 21, 27 and 28 and Nov. 3 and 4. Activities for kids start one hour before the tours. Cost is a minimum $20 donation for adults age 12 and up and $10 for those under 12. The facility is located at 245 CR 3422 south of Bridgeport.

Additional activities include a long list of raffle items, lots of games and prizes, arts and crafts, educational information, snacks and apple cider, and more.

“We do this to raise awareness,” Berry said. “This is the only time of year we allow children under 7 to tour our facility. This event raises the money we need to get through the winter.”

The center also works with universities across the nation to provide research to help keep these big cats alive in captivity and in the wild.

PLAYING WITH PUMPKINS – Milo, a spotted leopard, toys with a pumpkin. Visitors to CARE’s Fall Fest will get the chance to see tiger tug-of-war, big cat feedings, a pair of lion cubs and enjoy a host of games for kids, enter a raffle and learn all about the big felines. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“We do a lot of research with Texas A&M collecting genetic information,” Berry said. “Once I’m dead and gone and these cats are dead and gone, the genes of these animals will still be here. That’s very important. Unfortunately, because of the loss of land and habitat, many of these animals are going to go extinct in the wild.”

According to World Wildlife Fund, approximately 97 percent of all wild tigers have disappeared in the past century, due to hunting but even more so to the loss of habitat. As few as 3,200 tigers live in the wild today. More tigers live in captivity in the state of Texas than in the entire world.

The hope of CARE is not only to provide a safe home for abandoned and abused big cats, but also to raise awareness to how fast they are vanishing. For more information, go to, call (940) 683-8115 or email

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