In 1988 the Werner family purchased a 25 acre property in East Texas. In the spring of 1993 Brian completed his 6 years of service to the United States Navy and moved his wife and four of his older children into a small barn-red cabin located on the 25 acre tract. Living off the grid and with no access to running water they knew they had their work cut out for them.
They began clearing the land by hand while recruiting any volunteers they could find to help prepare a home for the unwanted tigers and assist in building the best enclosures they could with their limited funds. There were many struggles and the task at hand often seemed overwhelming but there was no turning back.
At first they could only afford smaller enclosures with exercise yards to rotate the cats through. They knew this wouldn't be permanent, but for the time being, it would work. There were many struggles and sometimes things seemed overwhelming, but they knew there was no turning back.
On September 3, 1995 the Werner family formed the “Tiger Missing Link Foundation” in an effort to begin documenting captive tigers that lived outside of accredited zoos. They began traveling across the country to garner support for this new venture and educated people about the plight of the tiger. For a short time, the family’s travels landed them in Brian’s home state of Ohio where the Tiger Missing Link Foundation received its official charter on April 16, 1996 by Brian Werner, his wife, his oldest daughter Brittani and Sara Troutman – an undergraduate student who dedicated time to the foundation.
In 1997, things seemed to be falling in place for the Werner’s when the National Institute of Health (NIH) performed the first genetic study ever to be done on tigers using DNA from a tiger in the care of the Tiger Missing Link Foundation and the results shocked everyone! The genetic testing proved that the tiger at TMLF was an Indochinese Tiger, a rare subspecies of tiger that was not held in any zoos! Brian realized that we cannot discard the genetics of tigers that are being kept in captivity; whether in sanctuaries, small zoos or in private hands. This population of untapped captive tigers living with private owners and in small sanctuaries turned out to be more genetically diverse than both wild tigers and those tigers located within the nation's accredited zoos compounds (future testing revealed that the zoo's held the Malaysian subspecies)! Brian understood that these animals could no longer be labeled as generic or "junk" tigers and that if we are to save a species from extinction we must look at every individual out there that is a representative of that species because every tiger matters. Armed with this scientific support the Werner’s returned to Texas in July of 1997 to establish a unique educational facility for tigers.
In 1998, Brian Werner and a formal partner formed the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge. Together with a passion for animals and a concern about the plight of the tiger, Tiger Creek was started and to this day Tiger Creek still stands as a division of Tiger Missing Link Foundation.
At first they could only afford smaller enclosures with exercise yards to rotate the cats through. They knew this wouldn't be permanent, but for now, it would provide the rescues a safe home. With small steps they soon moved out of the little red cabin and turned it into an intermediate feed room! That little red cabin has now been completely restored and will soon be made a part of the tour to serve as a reminder of our humble beginnings.
Next, Tiger Creek added a small kiosk that served as a check-in point for visitors and even began offering souvenirs (the kiosk resembled a firework stand at best). And when the local Coca-Cola representative approached us about a soda machine they had with a picture of an African Lion on the front? The small growth was exciting, but there was long road ahead of us and more work to do. We wanted and needed people to start visiting the refuge, but we had limited means on giving the visitor a great experience.
We were nervous that people would not share our vision, and therefore not support us, but what we found was quite the opposite! People loved what Tiger Creek was doing for the big cats and they knew that we would provide quality care!
The forming of this sanctuary eventually led to the rescues of other species of big cats that were also being abandoned, neglected or displaced. Most of these new rescues needed homes because of the exotic market boom in the late 80's-mid 90's and we were thrilled that our supporters enabled us to provide a safe haven for them!
Saving tigers continues to be our guiding mission here at Tiger Creek so stop in for an up-close encounter and let us know what you think!