The CARE family is having an open house, of sorts, at their Bridgeport home the next two weekends.
It promises to be a wild time.
Where else are you going to find a three-legged llama who thinks she’s a mom to a couple of five-month-old lion cubs?
The Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE) is putting on its fourth annual CARE Fall Festival Nov. 8, 9, 15 and 16. Tours will be given at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays. The facility is located at 245 CR 3422 south of Bridgeport.
The animal “family” consists of 41 big cats including tigers, lions, leopards, cougars and snow leopards; eight lemurs; a coatimundi and, of course, Dahlia the llama, who has taken quite the interest in two of CARE’s newest family members – lion cubs Araali and Zuberi.
Both the llama momma and her lion cub “sons” have interesting stories.
A month-old Dahlia arrived at CARE in March of this year with a badly broken leg. After examining all the options with Bridgeport veterinarian Bill McGee, her caregivers decided it would be best to amputate the leg.
Heidi Krahn, executive director of CARE, said Dahlia stayed with her during the recovery and found herself right at home.
“She lived in the house for quite a while after having her leg amputated,” Krahn said. “She still comes in the house sometimes. She’s completely potty trained. She comes in the house every single morning for her bottle. When it’s raining really hard, she’ll come in the house and lie in front of the fireplace.”
Meanwhile, the lion cubs’ parents were about to give the CARE staff a surprise. On June 6, 2 1/2-year-old lion Noel gave birth to three cubs. Her “roommate,” Mwali, was an even younger lion.
“The male (Mwali) was less than 2 years old, which is like impossible,” Krahn said. “… We planned a vasectomy this fall. The earliest that I know of, and I even called all over Africa, was 3 1/2 years old. He was less than 2,” when he got Noel pregnant.
“They don’t even get a full mane until they’re 5. He’s got a full mane at 2 years old,” she added.
Two of the three cubs have survived. Their brother, Jelani, died Oct. 1, from a congenital heart defect.
The cubs have spent their young lives in an enclosure complete with a tree house and playground next to Krahn’s house at the facility. When the cubs come out to play, Dahlia is right there to watch over them and, in some cases, join in the fun.
Krahn plans to demonstrate one of those fun activities known as the “magic carpet ride” at the Fall Festival. She will pull a blanket, and the cubs will jump on for a ride. Dahlia likes to join in as well, even though she’s gone from around 20 pounds to close to 100 pounds now.
“She just knows she is the mom of those babies. That’s her job,” Krahn said.
The young lions and the llama won’t be the only new things at his year’s Fall Festival. A gift shop has been added, featuring a variety of big cat-themed items. Because the weather is expected to be cooler this year, hot chocolate and cider will be served, and cookies and fruit will replace candy as treats.
The big cats will also be treated to a fun new game this year: bobbing for pumpkins.
“I’m so excited about that because I know a couple of cats who are going to go crazy,” Kahn said.
The public also has new options of helping support the animals at CARE. Multiple adoptions will be available for new cats that come open for adoption.
Of course, many of the favorite activities will return, including the big cats playing with pumpkins and having specially made presents filled with treats tossed to them. Adults can see how they fare in a tug-of-war match with a tiger or feed the cats chicken treats.
The event will also feature games, face painting, prizes, arts and crafts and treats. Prizes will be given to raffle winners. Raffle tickets are $5 each.
Admission is a donation of $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12. This is the only time of the year that children under 7 are allowed to visit the facility.
For more information on CARE or the Fall Festival, visit carerescuetexas.com.