in Tyler, Texas, where she worked with large cats like Lily, a Siberian tiger who has lived at the refuge her entire life.
The refuge is an international home to more than 50 rescued big cats. Tiger Creek was established “to provide rescue and rehabilitation of big cats that have been abused, neglected or displaced.” The facility is open to the public, and one of the duties Cecil enjoyed during her internship was giving tours to visitors. She was able to answer visitors’ questions and tell each cat’s story of how he or she ended up at Tiger Creek.
Cecil was assigned to help train Lily to do things like rise, sit, give her paw, open her mouth and stay calm while having her tail handled. The purpose of those exercises is to condition Lily to remain calm for medical purposes, such as when a veterinarian needs to examine her paw or draw blood from her tail. When a big cat is trained to be still for these types of things, the need for sedation decreases.
Animal Planet viewers may recognize Lily, who was featured on the show with her brother, Sarge, during the first year of their lives at the refuge.
“I wanted to get experience with exotic animals,” said Cecil, who searched the Internet for internship possibilities. “When I graduate from vet school, I want to work with exotics, and since I didn’t have a lot of experience with wild cats or zoo animals, I wanted to work with Tiger Creek.”
During her stay at the refuge, Cecil had the opportunity to watch several veterinary procedures, including reconstructive foot surgery on a male African lion and removal of a swallowed rock from a black Asian leopard. Following the rock surgery, Cecil and other interns removed all of the rocks from his enclosure to prevent a repeat incident.
In addition to training Lily and watching veterinary procedures, Cecil and the other nine interns were assigned daily duties like deep cleaning enclosures, preparing food and feeding the cats.
“My favorite part was working in the feeding room because you worked with 300 pounds of meat every day,” she said. “It is incredible the amount of food these animals eat.”
Cecil also admitted that feeding was a little nerve wracking at first. “We’d come out to feed them, and there was a tiger roaring in your face because you weren’t moving quickly enough for him.”
Another memorable experience for Cecil was bottle feeding 10-month-old baby tigers who arrived at the refuge during Cecil’s internship.
Back on campus for the fall semester, Cecil is serving as a resident director in Lovett Hall for her senior year and plans on graduating in May 2014.