For a moment it looked like Siegfried & Roy were back in business.
Motorists on Amherst's busy Millersport Highway slowed to a crawl not long ago after spotting, in John & Mary's restaurant parking lot, a pair of Siberian tigers.
The tiger cubs were furry, striped ambassadors from the nonprofit, federally licensed JNK's Call of the Wild Sanctuary in Sinclairville near Dunkirk.
Too often, lions and tigers and bears become exotic pets, and ultimately grow up and become too much to handle for their owners. Some animals have been injured or abused.
"It's really sad," commented Christine Pauly, of Williamsville, sanctuary co-owner.
"If someone has a computer and enough room on a credit card, they can purchase an exotic animal from one of many illegal breeders across the country. Then they come to realize that taking care of this animal is very hard. People just don't get it."
The sanctuary's big cats devour about 1,800 pounds of raw meat every week. And that meat bill is about to shoot up with the addition of two baby African spotted leopards that were illegally owned in Ohio.
This sanctuary receives nearly 200 rescue calls a week from across the country. It specializes in endangered species like the big cats. Besides the lion, tigers and bears, wolves also find homes at the sanctuary. It's even served as home to camels.
JNK's Sanctuary co-owners Jackie, Ken and Kristy Wisniewski -- husband, wife and daughter -- along with a solid corps of volunteers, are dedicated to providing a safe haven for injured, abused or unlicensed exotic animals. Dozens of different breeds and species of animals are cared for on the 51-acre farm.
"I've always loved animals, and to be able to help provide a home for these magnificent creatures is such a wonderful feeling," said volunteer Romy Stefano, of Getzville.
She has a special bond with Dakota, a young Alaskan interior wolf.
"Dakota and I are buddies," says Stefano. "He has accepted me into his pack, so to speak. He responds just great to me, it's the coolest thing."
Providing outreach educational seminars for schools, state parks, Scout troops and other organizations, sanctuary workers will hold a fund-raiser at 1 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Lockport John & Mary's on South Transit Road. It'll be a celebration of the first birthday of the sanctuary's four Siberian tiger cubs.
"We began our journey 15 years ago with our first Asiatic lion named Big Foot," Jackie Wisniewski recalled. "He quickly became an integral part of our family. What started out as a hobby has become support for the conservation of some of the world's rarest animals."
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