By Kristin Kownacky | email@example.com
Low growls escaped her as she paced back and forth, only yards away. Her claws crunched the leaves on the ground beneath, and her dark eyes were locked on mine. She was not big, but she looked stronger and faster than me. I was quite thankful for the chain-link fence that separated me from this wild animal.
Unfazed by the growling animal, Karen Malfy, volunteer at the St. Augustine Wildlife Reserve in Northeast Florida, approached the fence. Then, exuding pride, she introduced me.
“That is our beautiful Siberian lynx, Malyshka, which is baby girl in Russian,” Malfy said.
Malyshka was bred as a pet at the request of a buyer. When she was 3 months old the buyer didn’t want her anymore so the breeder sent her to the reserve.
The reserve, funded entirely by private donations, was founded in 2000 by owner Deborah Warrick. It is now home to many animals with similar stories to Malyshka.
Wild animals are bred in captivity to be sold as pets or used in commercials, shows, fairs and zoo. Such an industry creates a population of unwanted or abused animals. With the ominous threat of being euthanized, the lucky ones find refuge in facilities like St. Augustine’s.
Winding roads lead you to the reserve, and there it sits, nestled between sturdy trees and a spring-fed lake. It is home to two tropical birds, two lions, nine tigers, five cougars, five leopards, four African servals, three lynx, two pigmy goats, one deer, eight wolves and many other smaller animals.
Each animal that comes to them has its own story. Some were unwanted and abused, others were seized from heartbroken owners. But upon arriving at the St. Augustine reserve they are given fresh starts. For many, they are healthy and happy for the first time in their lives.
The work is tedious and dirty, and all the workers are unpaid volunteers. Yet they come back each day because of what Malfy calls a passion, a fire, a dream. She herself has been volunteering for seven years now.
Malfy’s voice was thick with emotion as she recalled rescues she has already experienced. Like raising four 12-day-old wolves, or raising a lion cub from 33 days old.
“Animals pick you. There’s no rhyme or reason sometimes why an animal likes one person and not another,” Malfy said.
That made me look over at Malyshka, who was still pacing and watching.
Perhaps she had not been growling after all. I would like to think she was purring.