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Big cat animal preserve in Acton readies for fire

Lions, tigers and fire -- oh my!

Flames are roaring across the street from the Shambala Preserve, an exotic animal center in Acton. But the 64 lions, tigers, leopards and other big cats that live here are staying put.

As firefighters beat back flames and helicopters fly overhead, a big male lion is sunning himself, said Chris Gallucci, vice president of operations.

The area around the preserve is under mandatory evacuation order, Gallucci said, but the crew at the preserve has decided to stay and fight the fire, if necessary.

"We have everything to fight fires on this property," Gallucci said. "Our plan is to hold in place. We have done this for 40 years. We are very good at what we do."

The preserve has dozens of steel evacuation crates ready to go in case the 64 big cats need to be moved. It also has equipment to beat back flames: A 22,000-gallon water tank, a lake and a complete fire road around the 80-acre site, Gallucci said.

Evacuating 64 big cats could clog Soledad Canyon Road, the only road that runs through the canyon area, Gallucci said.

"If you just panic and run, you're not being too professional," he said. "Dealing with exotic animals is completely different. You can't put the public at risk. We don't want to have the fire department and police department aiding us when they're trying to protect other people."

Gallucci said workers conduct a full-scale fire drill every six weeks, firing up their pumps and dropping them into the lake to make sure the water shoots out of their hoses. Despite the many fires since the preserve opened in 1976, officials have never needed to evacuate the animals, nor use the equipment, Gallucci said.

The center's entire crew has stayed on site since Friday, Gallucci said, including actress Tippi Hedren, who founded the preserve. Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," was on Soledad Canyon Road this morning, monitoring the flames and talking to firefighters, Gallucci said.

The fires and smoke do not scare the big cats, Gallucci said.

-- My-Thuan Tran

Photos: Southland wildfires
Interactive map: The Station fire

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Comments () | Archives (30)

Here's wishing that the fire just passes right by Shambala. It's very heartening to know that some are professionally prepared for the wildfires.

Blessings to all the people and big cats holding in place at Shambala.

When human and animal life is at risk, shouldn't the LATimes have the tact to use a lede that isn't a quip? It's going to take an incredible amount of courage and skill to save Shambala, and those involved deserve better than newswriters trying to be cute.

I certainly hope that the Shambala staff are as good as they claim to be, and that this is not just another attempt by people who think that they know fires to outguess the fire department. Also, does anyone know whether Wildlife Waystation in Sylmar is in danger, or has been damaged? Thanks.

I hope the people at Shambala are as prepared as they think they are. People who try to fight these fires themselves often are in over their heads. What a shame it would be if any of these cats are hurt.

Kudos to Mr. Gallucci for his bravery and devotion to these astonishing animals. Good luck. God bless. Bravo!!!

I agree with Katrina--"Lions and Tigers and Fire -oh my" is in seriously bad taste.
Shame on the LA Times.

My thoughts and best wishes go out for all the So. California residents affected by the fires.

Otherwise, great coverage of the fires.

"Lions, tigers and fire -- oh my! "

You know, just because there are "only" animals - and the people who care for them - at risk, that doesn't mean this isn't a serious situation. That failed attempt at humor was ill-advised.

I am very happy to hear the entire crew at Shambala preserve is ready. the fact that they have done this for the past 40 years doesn't mean anything. Because one day nature is going to get us. its only a matter of time. I sincerely hope that Plan B is executable and saves the animals and themselves too from harms ways. I can't appreciate enough their determination and courage under such dire situation. May Mother Nature be nice to us all the time.

I've been there and this organization does good things.
I pray for rain, or drop in temperature or FOG !
Something to aide the staff !

This story is going to end very badly.

The environmentalists got laws passed against fire management in California for the sake of the kangaroo rat. This is why no fire roads have been constructed which would slow and prevent the spread of wildfires. The environmentalists did this to California essentially because they want us dead. It is ironic that Tippi Hedren, who sucks up to the environmentalists, is going to be caught in this trap and find out that no, you can't put out a wildfire with the kind of equipment that she has.

She has her little cult of followers who attached themselves to her insane anti-ownership agenda and who are now going to go up in flames with her. The way this crap goes this will probably make them the saints of the anti-animal-ownership movement.

I've been to Shambala and it's a wonderful place full of people doing amazing things. I'm keeping Tippi, the cats and her fantastic staff in my prayers...if anyone hears any updates please post.

Lions, tigers and fire -- oh, my!??? Do you think that's cute? It is not cute, clever or funny. Shame on you and the LA Times for printing it.

Thomaskirby you are wrong. Fire roads, breaks and trails are cut rountinely. William S Hart School District maintains Trail Blazer Crews who work long hours in extreme heat throught out the canyons and foothills from Santa Clarita to Acton in preperation for these fires. Don't disrespect their hard work with your ill-informed negativity.

I just pray that the people and animals are ok. Normally I would say "get out if you can," but it's clear that they probably can't.

The San Diego Wild Animal Park handled a similar situation very well: let's hope this comes out well, too.

How can anybody wish bad things on animals and people who are trying to help them?

Mr.Kirby! Your cynicism and deep desire to pass judgment on those who actually do more than provide lip service to their humanitarian convictions is obviously beyond your compassion, and likewise something you obviously know little to nothing about.
If all you wish is ill-will for those trying to deal with such a perilous condition then keep it to yourself. They don’t need it.

What a really tasteless beginning to this story. Why in the world, when lives of these people and animals hang in the balance, would there be an attempt to be cute like that? We are praying for the people and animals of all kinds trying to survive this terrible fire.

I don't wish bad things on animals and people who try to help them. Tippi isn't someone who tries to help animals, but I wasn't wishing bad things on her, this time. The fact is that it looks to me like they're all going to die. Their deaths will be ironic because they are part of the lunatic fringe of the environmental movement and that lunatic fringe created the conditions that will kill Shambala.

ThomasKirby, your tinfoil hat needs adjusting.

Nice to know that there are those "caretakers" that prompt themselves for the eventuality of the situation they're currently facing! It would behoove all of us to be prepared...think that was the original "boy scout" mantra!! However, it would seem that those who are around the big cats, would know how they could respond to signs of danger...I applaud the "cool-headed" approach, which is probably the best angle for an animal that isn't actually domesticated!

Thomas Kirby ... do you live in Acton? As a past resident of Acton, and living just down the road from Shambala, I hope all goes well for them. I have fond memories of leaving for work and hearing the lions roar through the canyon. Or riding by Shambala on my way to the 49'er saloon and seeing the elephants out and playing. It was an awesome sight. How could anyone not be praying and be hopeful that the preserve and workers will be protected.

Does anyone know if the area where the Robins Nest campground, as well as the house across the street from there are okay?

The "tinfoil hat" comment just proves me right, Amy.

No! Mr. Kirby. Amy is dead on track. Tinfoil hat is actually being kind. You have no concept of what you are talking about. What Tippi does is beyond reproach. Maybe you should bone up and take a tour sometime of Shambala. You would come away with a very different perspective of what it means to be a true Humanitarian in all respects.

Some individuals are extremists in their own right, as Kirby is. Regardless of the individual beliefs of Tippi, she is helping these animals, and was obviously aware of her environment enough, as were her staff, to be appropriately prepared for this situation as best they could be. There is also note that there is a plan B, but that for the moment plan A is working sufficiently, and the animals are seemingly not overly stressed, if at all.

I am glad to hear that Shambala is doing as well as it has, and that they are acting in the best interest of the people as well as themselves and the animals, and I will continue to follow this story and it's hopefully happy ending.

Note to Kirby also, if Tippi were one of these extreme environmentalists you speak of, there would probably not be the fire road that is currently protecting Shambala. Obviously she balances reasoning with her environmental activities, so please do not group individuals so hastily into stereo-typed visions.

Yes, I agree with what's been stated earlier; please don't use silly, trite, and somewhat derrogatory leaders/titles for life-critical fire situations in stories. It's neither dignified nor helpful for anyone.

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