The very surprising sight of two caged Siberian tigers outside a Getzville submarine shop is the focus of a weekend effort to publicize the work done by volunteers at a wild animal sanctuary in Chautauqua County.
The temporary tiger show officially began at 11 a.m. Friday and will continue until 8 p.m. Sunday outside John & Mary's sub shop at 2363 Millersport Highway.
Sebastian and Shantal, the tigers, live with other wild animals at JNK's Call of the Wild Rescue Sanctuary in Sinclairville. The 54-acre site is about 20 miles south of Dunkirk.
Volunteers have run the not-for-profit facility for 17 years, caring for tigers, lions, bears, camels and a wide range of other animals.
"Most of these animals were rescued from situations where somebody owned them as exotic pets, and then didn't want them anymore when they got too big," said Romy Stefano, vice president of the sanctuary.
"We're here this weekend to show off two majestic animals, to publicize the sanctuary and hopefully to raise some money to help with the work we do."
The sanctuary got some unwanted publicity in 2007, when agents from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service charged JNK's operators with illegally buying a protected species leopard from an exotic animal dealer in Ohio.
Criminal charges led to a misdemeanor plea deal and a sentence of one year on probation for Jacqueline "Jackie" Wisniewski, one of the founders of the sanctuary. Wisniewski made an emotional apology in court for breaking a law, but said her only intention was to give the leopard a good home.
"That case is behind us now, but I can tell you that Jackie's actions were motivated by her love for an animal, nothing more," Stefano said.
Interested onlookers were showing up hours before the exhibit officially opened, and by noon, more than 200 people had already been there, volunteers estimated.
Youngsters from three different school groups came to watch the tigers while a Buffalo News reporter and photographer were visiting the temporary exhibit Friday morning.
Stefano said Sebastian and Shantal each weigh more than 400 pounds. The rare Siberian tigers are 5 years old and came from the same litter.
"They are brother and sister. They were born together at the sanctuary and will be there all their lives," Stefano said. "Their mother and father were former exotic pets that we rescued."
Stefano described the two tigers as "big house cats, magnified by 1,000 times."
"You'll see them wrestling and playing together, just like two house cats," she said.
While in Getzville, the animals are being kept in a portable cage that is about 20 feet long and about 8 feet wide, with another fence around it to keep spectators from getting too close.
The tigers will be watched closely by volunteers during the hours of the exhibit, and, for safety reasons, they will be moved to another location at night, Stefano said.e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org