Imagine a place where injured, abandoned or unwanted animals not only survive, but thrive. A place where cheetahs run, wolves howl, hawks soar and bears play.
Located on 38 acres just north of Reno, lies the Animal Ark, a wildlife sanctuary and education center that has been providing a safe haven for injured, abandoned or non-releasable wildlife since 1981.
Animal Ark Co-Founder and Executive Director Aaron Hiibel and his wife, Diane, who is co-founder and programs manager, along with a network of more than 50 volunteers and six paid staff, care for up to 25 species of animals at a time.
Situated away from residential neighborhoods and the bustling of downtown Reno, Animal Ark is a non-profit 501(c)(3) that takes in wild animals that, for a variety of reasons, are not capable of surviving in the wild on their own. Animal Ark rescues many of the animals that have been kept as exotic pets, have been separated from their mothers or have lost respect for humans and boundaries and would otherwise be euthanized.
This concept of providing these magnificent animals with safe sanctuary to live their lives includes building customized enclosures that simulate the animal’s natural habitat with native trees, boulders and vegetation. The animals receive daily activities and enrichment programs designed to alleviate boredom, including feeding techniques that scatter an animal’s food requiring it to use thought and craftiness to discover its meal. The quality and care provided to these animals often results in the animals living far past their life expectancy.
The Animal Ark has spearheaded various wildlife conservation programs, including a bear rehabilitation center where the region’s black bears that come into its care are nursed back to health and re-released into the wild. Additionally, the Animal Ark partners with the De Wildt Cheetah Centre and Wildlife Trust of South Africa to help raise funds for wild cheetah conservation and research. Moyo and Jamar, the Animal Ark’s cheetahs, came to Animal Ark as a result of this international partnership.
True to its mission of inspiring environmental stewardship through wildlife education, the Animal Ark offers a variety of educational programs, events and tours for children and adults to get to know the animals, their habitats and each of their stories. By hosting 17,000 visitors, and more than 8,000 school children annually, the Animal Ark helps to advance the importance of ecological principals and wildlife conservation.
Among the most popular ways the public gets to know the animals of the Animal Ark is through events like the Cheetah Runs, where the Animal Ark’s cheetahs, Moyo and Jamar, run at top speeds off-leash around the facility’s run field.
As a non-profit organization, the Animal Ark relies on its funding through admissions, special grants and donations from generous supporters and individuals. The funds are used to feed the animals, which can cost upwards of $70,000 a year, as well as for healthcare, veterinary costs and enrichment programs.
The feeding and storing of appropriate foods is a major undertaking of Animal Ark’s operation. The sanctuary’s carnivores consume 45 bounds of meat daily. Four bears, two tortoises and many other small mammals consume 57 pounds a day. The cost to feed resident birds is $62 per week, while the sanctuary’s juvenile wolves quickly devour their meals at $105 weekly.
Next on the wish list is to add a walk-in freezer that will allow Animal Ark to accept trucked-in deliveries right to their door. This will reduce the expensive monthly cost of cold storage in Reno and allow for more donated products to be taken in and placing larger orders will save on freight charges.
Expansion and growth is a yearly focus for Animal Ark and this year was no exception.
In 2015, Animal Ark:
• Accepted three wolf pups in need of a home
• Rescued two orphaned coyote pups
• Took in two orphaned bear cubs until their spring release in 2016
• Housed three cheetahs that were evacuated from a fire in southern California
• Added interactive education signs for children along the facility trail
• Provided onsite internships for two university students
• Began construction on a new 1,200 square-foot gift shop and admissions building
• Presented 295 education programs to children
• Provided 26,000 guests with an educational experience.
Thanks to its Board of Directors, partners and affiliates, supporters and volunteers, Animal Ark has experienced more than three decades providing a safe sanctuary for wildlife in need, saving unwanted wild animals from being euthanized and educating the community on the importance of wildlife conservation for the long-term survival of world’s most blessed creatures.