The big cat sanctuary based in the Netherlands provides special care to rescued and traumatised big cats. To find out more about the daily work at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary we interview animal caretaker Erin Timmer, who has been part of the FOUR PAWS family since June 2014. Erin gives us an exclusive take behind the scenes!
Can you describe an average day at work?
Our days at FELIDA are usually very busy, there is a lot to do around the sanctuary. In the morning, we start with a safety check on the terrain. We rotate the cleaning of the outside enclosures that we have divided into zones, where we clean one zone every day. After we have cleaned the outside enclosures of one zone we add some enrichment. Then we let the animals out, prepare and give medication and do an observation round. Following this, it is time to clean the inside enclosures and prepare the food for the animals.
After lunch there is time for animal training (such as clicker, or transport crate training), maintenance work, making of enrichment or additional cleaning. At around 16:30 it is time for the medication round and after that it is feeding time again! We always end the day with another safety check on the terrain where we make sure that everything is locked and closed for the night before we finish at 5-5:30pm.
What's the most unusual experience you've had working at the sanctuary?
I consider a lot of our work at the sanctuary to be unusual because we work with big cats and that is no average job. I always find the veterinary checks very interesting and I think we have been very creative in transporting our animals on the terrain via training and transport crates. Also the weather can be unusual sometimes. Last February, we had a lot of snow here at FELIDA and it was very unusual too see the animals walking around in the snow.
What's one thing that makes your job feel special?
That everything you do really benefits the animals and that you get to see the small improvements in their behavior or health every day.
What has been one of the most gratifying or memorable parts of your job?
I will never forget the day Sultan and Sayeeda arrived at FELIDA. We were all so happy that they finally made it to FELIDA and our hearts melted when Sayeeda stepped out of her transport crate and immediately stepped into her swimming pool. She looked so grateful then and it made us very proud that we got them both out of that horrible zoo in Syria.
What is one of the most challenging aspects of working with animals/working at the sanctuary?
That the animals in our sanctuary all have a different background and have been through a lot before they came to FELIDA. For some animals, their past has damaged their physical and mental state so badly that they have chronicle diseases, missing teeth or damaged organs and it can be really hard to imagine what life must have been like for them.
What did you do before you joined FOUR PAWS?
I graduated in Wildlife Management.
What is one of your favourite things about working in the sanctuary?
I enjoy the animal training a lot because you can really see this gives them clarity of what is going to happen during the day or in a specific situation like a transport or vaccination. This makes them more confident. We already saw a lot of change in our animals because of animal training and it is really great to be part of that.
Do you have a favourite animal at the sanctuary? If so, why?
I have a little crush on leopard Bakari who has been enjoying life in LIONSROCK since November 2016. When I started working at FELIDA, Bakari was still very young but already been through a lot. He was very anxious and insecure. We made a nice enclosure for him with several high platforms so that he could jump and gain muscles. We also started training and we gave him enrichment for the very first time in his life. During this time, I developed a very trusting relationship with him. We could see him turning into a confident, adult leopard that loved playing with enrichment and was full of energy. In 2016, I had the chance to accompany him during his transport to LIONSROCK where I could see him climbing the highest tree in his enclosure, enjoying the views from his new home. I will never forget that beautiful sight.
As I had a special bond with Bakari. He really liked me being around and after I went to LIONSROCK to accompany him I decided I wanted to have a tattoo of him to remember this special time. It took me three years to find a tattooist that I trusted with tattooing a portrait of Bakari. The photo he used was a photo I took myself in the first two weeks of his life in LIONSROCK. I’m really happy with the tattoo.
How has your work at the sanctuary changed your life and impacted your family/friends/community?
I became more conscious about the amount of animals living in bad conditions all around the world. Before I started working at FELIDA, I didn't realise that there were so many animals still being kept as pets, photo props or circus acts in Europe. By telling the story of the animals at FELIDA, people learn about these situations, that this is still happening very close to our homes and that we need to make a difference.
What do you like to do outside of work? What do you feel passionate about?
I have a lot of hobbies and I am very creative. I love to sew clothes for my daughter, I do a lot of DIY projects. I am a bit of a houseplant collector and I am currently learning how to use Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.