Turpentine Creek: Experience Africa in the Ozarks

This premier big cat sanctuary near Eureka Springs is home to a rare African wildcat and other exotic animals – and offers visitors unique safari suites and family lodging for the perfect nature escape! 

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is one of the nation’s most reputable big cat sanctuaries, and one that all animal lovers can appreciate. Now, with a new habitat for a rare species of African wildcat, and unique onsite lodging for overnight guest stays (think treehouse bungalow!), visiting Turpentine Creek is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Turpentine Creek is a true wildlife sanctuary in every sense of the word. Unlike a zoo, the animals at the refuge live in large, open habitats. They are never required to perform for visitors, and the refuge does not buy, sell, trade or breed animals.

For 27 years, Turpentine Creek has been rescuing and caring for animals exploited by the exotic pet trade — and providing them with a safe, permanent home where they receive a lifetime of specialized care, a spacious habitat that respects their privacy, and the dignity and compassion they so desperately deserve.

Visitors can plan a day trip to or an overnight stay at the sanctuary, where dedicated trained staff delight in sharing the experience of witnessing animals thrive under compassionate care.

Turpentine Creek has 60 dedicated-species habitats for tigers, lions, bobcats, leopards, cougars and others, most ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 square feet. The largest is the bear habitat consisting of 3.5 acres of intact Ozark Mountain woodland where five bear live, loving their digs.

With a total of 460 acres, all of the animals at Turpentine Creek have ample space to spread out, be themselves and live quasi-free.

Choose Your Experience

Turpentine Creek is located in the heart of the Ozarks Mountains near Eureka Springs. Surrounded by rugged forest landscapes and sweeping mountain vistas, visitors have a front-row seat to the wonders of the natural world.

For a great overall experience, take a Guided Walking Tour of the sanctuary to discover how the animals live, and to learn about their individual rescue stories. The refuge has a trolley service on the property for visitors’ convenience as well.

Exclusive Guided Tours give guests a behind-the-scene look of operations at the refuge, including how staff prep the animals’ food, the onsite veterinary hospital, and what takes place at Rescue Ridge – a flatter part of the refuge where animals can transition and receive special care.

Early risers can upgrade to a Coffee with a Curator tour to learn about the sanctuary’s history and the advocacy work by staff to fulfill the refuge’s mission.

Kids and families can enjoy Enrichment Workshops where they create toys and other fun items that help keep the animals physically and mentally active.

If you’ve ever dreamed of staying at a wildlife rescue, miles from the city where you can hear the caroling of the lions at night, Turpentine Creek has your ticket. Book an overnight or weekend stay in a family treehouse, the adults-only Zulu Safari Lodge, or through a number of lodging options at the refuge – and fall asleep to the sounds of Africa in the Ozarks.

Enzo, Bowden, Sammy & Whistler
Super-Sleek Servals

The newest members of the Turpentine Creek family belong to a species of African wildcats called servals. The refuge recently christened a spacious new serval habitat that five of these endearing cats call home.

Servals are small, lean felines with elongated ears, slender necks and long legs that let them leap high in the air – and pounce! The serval family of Bowden, Enzo, Giselle, Sammy and Whistler, along with Tigger the Savannah, a hybrid of a serval and a domestic cat, moved into their 6,500-square-foot habitat in June.

The new habitat is outfitted with natural rock platforms where these cool cats can climb and play and benches where they can lounge and rest. A hollow cave gives them the privacy they need.

Since servals are water-loving felines, their habitat has a pool where they love to splash and play. A climate-controlled building keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Visitors are invited to tour the serval habitat from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Admire these magnificent creatures and learn about the vital role they play in the ecosystem.

Make it an Overnighter

Staying overnight at the refuge is a must for anyone interested in experiencing Africa in the Ozarks. Turpentine Creek has a variety of unique accommodations to choose from.

Stay 15 feet up in the air in the Treehouse Bungalow – built on stilts and reached via stairs to a wraparound deck. Secluded in a grove of trees with a view of nature and the animals, the treehouse bungalow is the perfect wilderness escape!

Enjoy tent style camping without having to set up a tent! Safari Tents at the refuge offer the fun of camping but with real beds, electricity and other comforts of home.

The adults-only units at the Zulu Safari Lodge — the Kilimanjaro, the Congo, the Okavango, Serengeti and the Kalahari (pictured) — bring the amenities like art and décor of the animals, showers for two, handicap options, and back decks that boast lovely sunset views.

Family-friendly units cater to your entire crew with large windows to watch the tigers play, and pet-friendly policies that let you bring your furry companions along. RV and camping spots at Turpentine Creek are available by reservation, too.

Many of the lodging options at the refuge come with free admission, VIP access, complimentary tickets to the trolley service and other cool extras.

A Friend to the Animals

As one of more than a dozen reputable big cat sanctuaries around the country, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge easily stands out as a frontrunner.

Family-owned and operated and licensed by the USDA and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the sanctuary got its beginnings more than 40 years ago when its current president and founder Tanya Jackson Smith was only 11 years old.

Tanya’s parents, Don and Hilda Jackson, and Tanya rescued their first big cat in Hughes Springs, Texas, in 1978. Bum, a rapidly growing 8-month-old lion cub, had been abandoned in the parking lot of a Little Rock hotel. The Jackson family took in Bum and went on to rescue a second lion, but it was no easy task: male lions can weigh over 400 pounds and easily eat 15 pounds of meat a day.

In 1991, after a black market dealer who was on the run from the law showed up on the Jacksons’ doorstep with 42 big cats, the Jackson family purchased the 460-acre ranch near Eureka Springs that eventually became Turpentine Creek, and moved the animals there.

It soon became evident to the Jacksons that big cat ownership was a serious issue in the United States. In response to more and more calls for help, Don, Hilda and Tanya did what most would only dream of – they sold their home in Texas, bought the ranch, and moved more than 300 miles away to Northwest Arkansas to start a new life dedicated to the animals.

After years of hard work, Turpentine Creek reached verified status by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries in 2015 and accredited status in 2017. The accreditation indicates to the world that Turpentine Creek is a sanctuary that upholds the highest standards of animal care and safety.

To date, Turpentine Creek has rescued more than 500 survivors of the exotic animal trade. The refuge continues to thrive under the leadership of Tanya (pictured) and her husband Scott Smith, with the help of more than two dozen dedicated staff and interns.

If you plan to lodge at the refuge, be sure to make your reservations ahead of time, as space fills up quickly. To learn more about Turpentine Creek and to plan your visit or stay, go to tcwr.org.


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