Author Brian A.
Hopkins, Pride Rock Wildlife Refuge
"I thought I
saw a putty-tat!"
or "BAH's Visit
to the Pride Rock Wildlife Refuge,"
(POB 1594, Terrell, TX 75160), a
non-profit safe haven for
exotic animals (primarily BIG cats).
Thirty miles east of Dallas, at a magical place called Pride Rock, Gary and Carol Holliman struggle to provide a
home for 27 big cats and 10 wolves, foregoing a lot of personal luxuries in
order to keep these castoffs happy and fed. And the menagerie is
growing. Rarely a day goes by when the
Texas couple don't get a phone call from someone looking for a home for a Bengal
tiger, African lion, cougar, wolf ... or even just an unwanted hound dog ...
victims of short-sighted people who think a cuddly cub's the perfect pet,
corporations suddenly looking to dump the leftovers from an advertising
campaign, bankrupt circuses, breeders who only want white tigers, and so
on. I can't imagine how anything less than 100% of Gary and Carol's
free time goes into maintaining Pride Rock. There are cages to be built,
bellies to fill, tiger poo to be shoveled ... you name it.
Pride Rock isn't open to
the public, so they're not raking in the big bucks like some amusement
park. The Hollimans do this because they love the animals. Other than their
own income, they subsist entirely on donations (more about that at the end of
the page). I was fortunate enough to receive a personal invitation to come
visit (that's the only way you get into this place), and after signing a waiver
that basically said I wouldn't sue if a tiger ripped my arm off (what a story
that would have made, though, eh?), the family and I were treated to what amounted
to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. (Click on any thumbnail for a larger
view. All photos on this webpage copyright (c) 2004 Brian or Betty
|How close were we able to get to these animals? Well,
close does this look? That's the business end of a Bengal
tiger -- but never fear, that was taken just two seconds before she
licked my camera lens. Some of the animals were as sweet as kittens;
others had seen abuse in their lives and were understandably much less
friendly; and some ... well, some just stared at my daughter and her
friend with eyes that were clearly not trying to hide the thought that
"the little'uns could be cut from the herd and eaten rather quickly
if only this damn chain link fence wasn't in the way!" Don't
doubt for a single moment that for the most part these animals are still
very much wild beasts. They are certainly not pets.
||The animals all seemed healthy and happy. Most seemed
genuinely excited about our visit. My favorites were the tigers,
either the two brothers featured to the right or the three ladies in the
photo to the left. If you were brave enough, you could score a tiger
kiss. At least a kiss is what I prefer to believe it was ... there
is the possibility that it was more of a taste. Their tongues felt
like one of the wood rasps out in my shop.
||In the Texas heat, the tigers were smart enough to stay
cool, while we upright walkers were dripping sweat. To tell the truth,
I'd have liked to join the tigers in that water. When warned that
they would shake big time after getting out of the water, I actually
thought it might be a nice way to cool off. The only place hotter
than Oklahoma right now is probably Texas. I'd do it all again,
though ... tomorrow, in fact!
|As the afternoon waned, naps were in order. (I took
one myself after the visit.)
||Like I said, the tigers were my favorites, the two brothers,
Jamu and Kashmir, and the three sisters, Mia, Golden, and Kelly (part of
an advertising campaign for Exxon when they were cubs).
||Not so friendly was Miss Sophie (who Gary Holliman says
"displays an attitude" whenever he's not around). All you had to do was look in her direction
and she would snarl. There's something primal about the growl of a
big cat. The sound crawls down your spine and settles into your scrotum, and I don't care how
much of a bad ass you think you are, you know you'd last about two seconds
under those teeth and claws. I can't even imagine being stalked by
one in the wild. You'd die from fright long before the cat actually
pounced and ate you. We didn't linger around Sophie.
As you can see from these photos (hastily snapped through several layers of
fence), she was not part of the welcoming committee. Gary says she's
a "Daddy's Girl," though, and he hand feeds her most every
night. I think if I tried to hand feed her, I'd lose my hand.
|And there was a, uh, reminder or two laying around that
these were top-of-the-food-chain carnivores. Was this
evidence, perhaps, of previous guests who had gotten a bit too close?
||Another grouch was Gabriel, a male lion. Gabriel's
problem was that he hadn't been fixed (if you can imagine that being a
problem -- ha!), and at least one of the females in the nearby cage was in heat. I
think he saw me walking around free with a bunch of females and took an
immediate disliking to me for that fact alone. Five seconds after
snapping these two pics -- at which time he was being very vocal about his
dislike for me, rumbling a deep bass like the sound of a thunder storm building in the distance --
he leaped to the fence with a roar that I know was heard back in OKC.
Snap went those jaws, and I could just imagine my head being crushed in
them like a pecan shell. Out came the claws, raking across the chain
link fence right in front of my face. I would have loved to have gotten a picture of this, but
believe me, I was far too busy wetting my pants. We vacated the
area, leaving him in frustrated peace.
||But I circled back around later while he was taking a nap and
got these two pics of him. He looks like an absolute sweetheart
here, doesn't he? Then he woke up and ran me off
again. Fence or no fence, it was no time to loiter. King of
the Jungle uncontested, that's for damn sure, and we certainly didn't want
to stress him out any more than he already was. Having been married
for 24 years now, I can well understand the sexual frustration he was
feeling. It's always so near and yet so far away. Ha!
(Hope the wife doesn't read this!)
|Not all the males were grouchy. This fellow, whose
name is Jake, was rather indifferent to our visit. He'd
found a spot in the shade and wasn't about to get up for some silly Okies.
If they weren't interested in you, the cats seemed to make a point of
overly ignoring you (saw this a lot with the cougars) -- probably a common
behavior pattern in such animals. Sort of a "you're beneath me
and not worth paying attention to" attitude.
||The lionesses were friendly enough with me, but they would
watch my daughter and her friend with a gaze that spoke of pure predator.
|Look at the intensity in those eyes. While the girls
were near, the lionesses gaze never left them. I'd be taking photos,
talking to the lioness, trying to get her attention, and so on ... and she'd never look away from the girls,
tracking their every move, all those tawny-coated muscles coiled to
spring. Creepy. I was reminded that it's the lioness who is
the real hunter in a pride.
||Everybody's favorite lion was Pharaoh, a young male.
Believe it or not, even at 150 pounds, he's still a bottle-fed baby. He wanted so bad to
come out and play with us. You could tell he'd be a lot fun.
Of all the big cats, I think he's the one I would have most liked to
actually get in the cage with. I think we would have had a
great time so long as he remembered to keep his claws sheathed. Naturally, the girls wanted to take him home with
us. Wouldn't that be awesome the next time my neighbor's two boxers came
over to beat up Lucky Dog, my border collie? Couldn't you just imagine their
surprise when they came over and discovered we now had a putty-tat?
I can hear myself now: "Uh, sorry about your boxers, guy, but my cat ate them."
Ha! Hmmm ... maybe the Hollimans would let me borrow Pharaoh for a
|There were also cougars with catchy names like "Freddie
Cougar." Until this trip, I didn't know a cougar would
"meow" like a house cat. They were the most aloof of the
bunch, though, preferring to stay in the shade, sometimes eyeballing us
from a distance, most often ignoring us completely.
|As I said, there were also wolves (see the teaser at left), but I've created this
page primarily to feature the big cats who are in the most need of our
help. (We'll focus on wolves another time.) Pride Rock is a
non-profit refuge and survives entirely on donations. Each of these
animals is given the finest in veterinary care (provided by Texas A&M
University) and made comfortable for the duration of its life. As
you can imagine, this is an expensive endeavor. Carol Holliman told
me that they go through over 3,200 pounds of meat every three weeks.
more information, visit the Pride Rock website at
where I encourage you to make a tax-deductible donation for the care and
feeding of these magnificent animals. As far as I'm concerned,
critters define what it means to be human because how we relate to
them serves as testimony to the worthiness of our custodianship of this
planet. It's all that circle of life stuff they teach you in The
Lion King, doncha know. We've long since moved beyond the role
of top predator on Earth into the role of guardian, caretaker, and
watchdog over our children's natural heritage. But enough of my philosophizing
... Be sure to drop by the Pride Rock
website; tell Carol and Gary that I sent you.
I'd like to thank Elaine Checkley for introducing me to the Hollimans
and making the invitation possible; Greg
Ruffin and Elaine for welcoming us into their home; and Gary
and Carol Holliman of Pride Rock for allowing us this wonderful
opportunity to experience these animals up close and personal.
Brian A. Hopkins
at Road's End, Oklahoma City
1 Aug 2004