In a remote Southern California location, on the very edges of Los Angeles California, nested in the Santa Clarita Valley lies the desert city of Acton, home to Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve. The actress established the animal sanctuary in 1972, followed by the organization of the nonprofit Roar Foundation that would fund it.
Shambala cares for endangered exotic big cats such as African lions, Siberian and Bengal tigers, leopards, servals, mountain lions, bobcats, plus a lynx, a panther, and a liger. Most of the animals were born in captivity and orphaned from circuses or zoos, or are given up by private owners who could no longer care for them. Two of Shambala’s most famous residents were Michael Jackson’s Bengal tigers, Sabu and Thriller, brought to Shambala after the iconic performer decided to close his Neverland Ranch zoo. 13-year old Thriller died in 2012.
Chris Gallucci, VP of Operations and Director of The Roar Foundation, met Tippi on the set of Roar, a movie featuring the star and her daughter Melanie Griffith, as well as a plethora of big cats and two elephants. Chris was immediately fascinated by Timbo, the gigantic bull elephant, and when the film’s elephant trainer quit, he immediately applied for the job. “Someone told me that the elephant was the largest animal that walked the earth,” Chris says. “I knew I had to have a piece of that.” To win the pachyderm’s trust that first night, Chris chained himself beside Timbo in his enclosure and threw away the key. That was the start of the 30+ year long relationship.
Running the sanctuary is like running a small business and part of the job requires a good deal of marketing, including social media. The staff manages a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a stream of ongoing video to bring awareness of their mission and drive funding to the organization. “We live off donations”, says Chris. “It takes a staggering amount of money to run an operation as large and unique as Shambala. “It costs 1 million dollars per year to run the Shambala Preserve – $20,000 dollars every 7 days!”
That’s a LOT of cat food!