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New habitat to open at Noah's Ark

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

An unlikely combination of animals is settling into their new home together, thanks to charitable donations given to a local, non-profit facility.

Noah's Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center and Children's Care Home in Locust Grove, will host a grand opening for its newest habitat Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m. The habitat, which opened to its residents Nov. 4, houses an African lion, named Leo, Shere Khan, the tiger, and an American black bear, named Baloo.

Diane Smith, the assistant to Noah's Ark director Jama Hedgecoth, said the trio of animals came to the facility together in 2001 through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, but have not been visible to most visitors.

"We didn't have the funding to move them up to the public area," said Smith. "They've been out by the children's care home. They came here together as cubs.

"We could have separated them, but since they came ... as a family, Jama decided to keep them together," continued Smith. "To our knowledge, this is the only place where you'll find this combination of animals together."

The bear weighs 800-1,000 pounds, and the tiger and lion are approximately 350 pounds each, she said. The animals, each 9 years old, now live in a clubhouse designed specifically for them.

According to Smith, the new home, with an estimated cost of $20-25,000, had to be constructed carefully, in order to accommodate its occupants.

"The clubhouse had to be ... very sturdy, because they all sleep in it together," added Smith. "We're actually not finished with it yet, because we're going to extend a fence to include a creek, because the tiger and the bear both like to be in water."

She said there is a unique bond among the three animals, which is evident in the way they interact with each other.

"The tiger rubs up against the bear just like a house cat," Smith said.

There is no charge for admission to Noah's Ark. Commemorative tote bags -- carrying the words "Lion, Tiger, Bear - OH MY!" -- will be on sale, she said, at the facility during the grand opening, and donations to the facility are welcome.

For more details, call Noah's Ark at (770) 957-0888, or visit www.noahs-ark.org.