In the depths of the Pinelands in the Bamber Lake section of Lacey Township, seven new big cats are living the good life at .
The cats, known as the Texas 7, were found by an exotic sanctuary neglected on a Texas farm, some in small horse stalls, others imprisoned in outdoor cages.
Popcorn Park is now home to Porthos, a male lion; Taj, a tiger; four female cougars; and one male cougar.
“We’ll learn more about them as the days go by but from now on they will never want for clean water, proper diet, a clean den and big yards to play in,” Popcorn Park General Manager John Bergmann said.
Bergmann got word of the wild cats from Vickey Keahey, owner of InSync Exotics, an exotic cat sanctuary in Texas. There were more than 20 big cats on the farm. The owner had passed away but the cats were neglected long before her death.
The cat’s stalls looked as if they had not been cleaned in years, water was given to them in dirty buckets and food was strewn in the stalls.
InSync Exotics cared for the animals until they could be transported in climate-controlled tractor-trailers to rescue facilities, like Popcorn Park.
“We waited on the edge of our seats and finally saw the transport pull in,” Bergmann said. “We couldn’t wait to open the doors and see our new family.”
The cats have been at Popcorn Park for approximately two weeks and are becoming more familiar and comfortable with their new surroundings each day.
Since their arrival, zookeepers have been learning each of the cat’s personalities and how to work with them. Some are more cautious and may feel threatened while others have adjusted more easily.
“We’re both getting to know each other,” Bergmann said.
“Every day they get a little more comfortable and know their routine,” Bergmann said.
Three of the five cougars have been placed in the same enclosure. Two of them used to live together but the other cougar was kept alone.
“They’ve been good. There was some hissing but they’re pretty relaxed. They’re working out who’s going to be boss,” Bergmann said.
When the cougars originally arrived they did not know where they were or what was happening, Bergmann said. Two of those cougars have adjusted well while one is still timid.
Lance and Gwen are two more cougars living in another enclosure.
Lance, had two broken back legs at one point of his life that healed poorly due to lack of nutrition, Bergmann said. He also has two digits missing on a front paw and another on a back paw.
All of the animals have adjusted well to the sounds and sights of Popcorn Park except when they see the peacocks; they want to stalk them, Bergmann said.
“Some of them acted the next day [after their arrival] like they have been here their whole lives,” Bergmann said. “It’s neat to see their reaction to grass. They just rub around in it.”
Porthos fell into that category as he lay sprawled out on the grass and rubbed his body against the fence when Bergmann called him.
Porthos has been placed in a cage next to Nyla, a female lion who has been at the zoo for many years. The zoo plans to put them together in the future since lions live in packs, Bergmann said.
Nyla has shown interest in Porthos but Porthos has not paid much attention, Bergmann said. But he has adjusted well and is enjoying his spacious cage.
“Every day they get to know each other better. We think it’s going to go really well when it’s time to put them together,” Bergmann said.
Taj, the female tiger, has yet to adjust to the new surroundings and has not been let outside of her den yet.
“She used to be really loud but has made improvements,” Bergmann said.
All of the cats were examined, had blood tests completed and were vaccinated. Some do need medical attention as they have dental issues and problems with the tendons in their paws after their previous owner declawed them, Bergmann said.
Many of the Popcorn Park goers were unaware of the new cats. With Porthos being the only new big cat out at the time, families gathered around his cage fascinated by the king of the jungle and his story.
“I want one. He’s cool,” one mother said.
“He makes your cat at home look like a mouse,” a little boy said.
The cats can be visited at Popcorn Park by the public during operating hours, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.
For more pictures and updates on the progress of the Texas 7, visit Popcorn Park's facebook page.
To make a donation toward the Texas 7, click here.