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Project Survival's Cat Haven

Jun 24, 2015 10:06PM ● By Brandi Barnett

Call of the Wild

July 2015
By Fache Desrochers

A big cat in the wild is the very antithesis of helpless. Sleek, powerful and often frightening, they are at home in their environments in a way that has fascinated people since time immemorial. But despite their natural prowess, many wild cats today face at least some threat to their habitats, food supply and very futures.
Although the endangered nature of big cats is a serious issue, it is not a new one, and conservationists have been working for years to try and assist these animals with the problems humans have caused for them. But what is the best way to help big cats, or other endangered animals? Is it through funding conservation programs? Raising global awareness? Empowering people to use their own talents toward wildlife preservation? According to Dale Anderson, the solution is a bit of all of these…and then some.   
Anderson is the founder and executive director of Project Survival’s Cat Haven. Located in Dunlap, 45 minutes east of Fresno, the Cat Haven has been offering the amenities of giant Sequoia redwood trees, low humidity and temperate year-round weather to its feline residents for almost two decades. As the Cat Haven celebrates its 18th year of operation, it’s a good time to recall just what Anderson is working toward. “The whole reason I set this place up was to be able to say, ‘Come see our cats, get excited about them, and get interested in what’s going on in the wild,’” Anderson says. “And then we can help channel those funds and interest into projects and programs in the wild that make an impact.”

Anderson’s passion has deep roots. When he was in seventh grade, a conservationist brought a mountain lion to class to impress its beauty and value on the children. And it worked…at least on Anderson. “I don’t remember the name of the guy, but I remember that the cat’s name was Sam,” Anderson says. “And after that, I always envisioned having a mountain lion as a pet.”
In California, an individual must have two years of full-time experience working with cats before the state will permit the possession of an exotic animal. Undaunted and law-abiding, Anderson promptly started working in a cat facility. But he quickly realized that at least within this domestic realm, not much was actually being done to help cats in the wild. So Anderson’s ideas began to shift until suddenly he found that his goals were geared less toward ownership of his ideal pet, and more toward a dream of a facility where people could come see the animals and be inspired to help them in the wild. “When people see the cats here, they fall in love with them,” explains Anderson. “And then their desire to help their wild cousins becomes very strong. That’s where we branch out and help fund the conservation efforts out there, from jaguars in Brazil to snow leopards in the Himalayas.”
Perhaps the thing that makes Anderson’s conservation philosophy truly unique is his understanding of the relationship between humans and wild cats, and what that means for the felines’ futures. “It’s my belief that you have to assist humans if you want to assist animals,” explains Anderson, who has seen first-hand how many of the cats’ enemies are people who are also just trying to survive. That is why a portion of the Cat Haven’s funds go toward efforts like building cat-proof pens for livestock or giving scholarships for kids to go to school in Kenya. “If you assist people who know that cats are what are helping them go to school and that cats are important, no matter what they do with their education, they remember that, and we make progress,” says Anderson. “It’s about trying to create a possibility for sustainable coexistence between people and the animals that live around them.”
For Anderson, bettering the fate of any endangered animal starts with empowering and educating the people who can help. These efforts span the globe, but one close-to-home favorite is the Haven’s Coins for Cats program, wherein the socially gifted cheetahs of Cat Haven are taken out to visit schools around the Valley. Students are asked to gather coins for donation in return. “The purpose of this is less to make money and more to empower the kids to take action and know that they can help,” says Anderson.

Project Survival’s Cat Haven • (559) 338-3216 • Wednesday-Monday 10am -4pm
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