The Tiger Creek wildlife refuge near Winona continues to expand, having just added a new building where, every morning, they prepare a huge feast. After all with more than 30 big cats -- tigers, lions, leopards, and cougars -- it takes a lot of red meat.
Not many folks want to be around the feeding frenzy that follows!
"We feed over 400 pounds of meat a day, and I don't want to cook 400 pounds of food a day," says Park Director Terri Werner.
The food is prepared inside the new facility at Tiger Creek, a $150,000 storage facility. It was funded through an estate gift from a benefactor.
"We feed big chunks of muscle meat, and also ground meat," says senior animal keeper Jennifer Reddington.
Inside the new facility, the meat is kept cold, and separated from cats that go crazy at the first smell of breakfast.
"We're feeding anywhere from eight to 15 pounds of meat per cat per day right now," Reddington added.
Werner says feeding time is the most dangerous time around the large carnivores. The food arrives on trays like it's a jungle cafeteria.
"[The cats] get very excited. They get very excited," Werner says.
It's a rare look at one of the more dangerous times of day at Tiger Creek. The handlers are still just inches away, separated by fencing.
"Even the [cats] that we have hand raised from little babies, they have the instinct to grab [their] food as quickly as [they] can get it, and keep someone else from getting it," says Werner.
Bengali the tiger didn't take too kindly to the presence of photographer Kendrick Henderson. The big cat lunged twice at him, defending her food. The chain-link fencing rattled violently, but protects the visitors to Tiger Creek from danger.
"We do have to watch their diets very closely and they do get some supplements, and we add that into the meat," says Werner, of the monumental feeding process that continues five days a week. The cats fast for two days a week to allow natural acid to build in their stomachs.
The cats are a popular attraction for kids and adults, and the hope at Tiger Creek is to get even more cats into a much larger habitat on adjacent land soon.
Upgrades to the habitats at Tiger Creek are expected to run $2 million. The bill for food alone runs in excess of $40,000 per year.
The non-profit center gets funding from donations and also gate fees from visitors.