When people think of all the animals that call Minnesota home - bears, deer, rabbits, loons - most tend to leave out the African cats. Lions, tigers, and leopards are a few of the breeds housed at the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone. Although most of the cats aren't native to Minnesota, the Wildcat Sanctuary does play host to native species like the bobcat, Canadian lynx, and the cougar.
Cats that purr don't roar, and cats that roar don't purr. There are other sounds that are unique to certain species. Tigers give their greeting with a chuffing sound, while cougars chirp like birds when they're being friendly.
All those sounds and more are tucked away a few miles down a dirt road in Sandstone. The sanctuary sits on 40 acres of land surrounded by tall chain link fences. Tammy Thies founded the non-profit 10 years ago, and she says the hidden location is by design. The cats have been through a lot of trauma and in some cases have been seized from owners who might try to re-claim their animals, if they knew where to look.
The Wildcat Sanctuary is closed to the public and doesn't consider itself a zoo. It's solely funded by private funds, and since it's not open to the public, most of the donors will never see the cats in person.
The organization tries to steer people away from breeding wild cats as pets and works with other rescue groups to encourage people to adopt domestic animals.
(Photos in slideshow by Tom Weber)