Town Chronicle

Lions and tigers and bears: The wildest retirement home in Southwest Florida has reopened for guided tours




When Squiggy the grizzly didn’t perform filming commercials, he was beaten with pipes. COURTESY PHOTOS

When Squiggy the grizzly didn’t perform filming commercials, he was beaten with pipes. COURTESY PHOTOS

For three long years, Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary has had to close its doors — first due to COVID, then after being hit hard by Hurricane Ian. Under the leadership of owner Lauri Caron, she and her volunteers persevered through long, hard days but never wavered while caring for the more than 120 animals in her care. It was business as usual behind the closed gates until it was deemed safe to bring the public back to visit.

Now Octagon has reopened, if only to offer guided tours. Visitors will leave with a new perspective and educational experience as the tour guides stop at each animal and explain where the animal came from and why they were brought to the sanctuary. They offer more information about each animal, maybe some personal experiences while volunteering, interaction and enrichment with some of them, too. It’s a great experience for all ages that visitors will always remember.

Founded in 1978, Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary is the forever home to discarded and often mistreated and unwanted exotic “zootype” animals that have been confiscated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture (both federal and state offices) or other law enforcement agencies. Many of Octagon’s animals have come from overcrowded facilities, breeding facilities that have been shut down, private owners without proper licenses, or by well-meaning people that thought it was a good idea to buy an exotic animal, only to realize they couldn’t properly care for it, but cared for it the best they could.

Clockwise from top left: Cady, a capuchin monkey; Kondo, an African lion; and Bella, a Bengal/Siberian mix tiger.

Clockwise from top left: Cady, a capuchin monkey; Kondo, an African lion; and Bella, a Bengal/Siberian mix tiger.

Though Octagon takes in zoo-type animals, it is not a zoo. These animals come from 17- to 20-year generations of being born, raised and sold in captivity to be a “pet” or to be used in a business. None of the animals have ever been taken out of the wild. Zoos will not care for these animals due to their physical and/or mental conditions. Octagon does not breed, buy or sell any animals.

Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity, and operates on donations, grants, fundraisers and generous donors. Much of the food and supply is donated by three Target locations (Fort Myers), Winn Dixie (Fort Myers), Publix (Punta Gorda) and Cheney Brothers (Punta Gorda). The food donated is not for human consumption, but is still quite good for the animals, and is inspected before feeding it out, to ensure it’s consumable for the animal.

Snow, a white tiger, takes a dip in a pool.

Snow, a white tiger, takes a dip in a pool.

Even so, Octagon’s expenses exceed $15,000 per month. The sanctuary is not supplemented by any federal or state government agencies, therefore solely relies on donors and the surrounding communities for support. Volunteers are always needed, as well as donations.

Octagon is located in southern Punta Gorda, directly across the street (State Road 31) from the main entrance of Babcock Ranch. It leases the land, which is privately owned, for $1 per year, and is responsible for any and all maintenance, as well as all utility bills and needed upgrades. It is under the supervision and required inspections of USDA and FWC. Regular inspections are conducted at any time by those agencies. The integrity of the enclosures, grounds and animal health is the main focus of the agencies’ inspections. These are carried out side by side with the Ms. Caron, who has cared for the animals for more than 30 years.

 

 

The sanctuary’s mission is, “To provide a safe haven for exotic zoo type animals and to ensure they live out their lives in a healthy, stress free, clean and loving environment.” Octagon is a “must see” to experience a true sanctuary and how happy and content the rescued residents live out the rest of their lives.

See for yourself why Octagon is the wildest retirement home in Southwest Florida!

 

 

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