Tarzan, a 34-year-old Chimpanzee, carries his favorite toy, a spoon. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Tarzan, a 34-year-old Chimpanzee, carries his favorite toy, a spoon. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
ALBION – Peaches is known around the world as the “Cursing Cockatoo.”
The staff at Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, 1426 W. CR 300N, Albion, know they have to be careful what they say around the Moluccan cockatoo because she could easily pick it up and repeat it.
Tarzan is a 34-year-old male chimpanzee who likes to carry around his favorite toy – a silver spoon. He is a retired performer, and made his home at the animal sanctuary in spring 1996.
A fraternity member purchased Gus, a North American alligator, but couldn’t keep him in the bath tub forever, so Black Pine Animal Sanctuary eventually took Gus in when he was 5 feet long. He’s now 9 feet.
The bird, primate and reptile are just three of the 100 animals that call the Albion sanctuary home.
“Black Pine exists to provide permanent refuge to displaced, captive-raised animals and educate people primarily about the exotic pet trade but really about any type of responsible animal ownership,” said Executive Director Lori Gagen in an interview Saturday at the sanctuary. “There are other issues we do educate and talk about on occasion, and those are usually just exclusive to our local area, and is the reason that we’ll bring them up. Things like puppy mills and exotic animals in entertainment and those sorts of things do pop up from time to time, too.”
The sanctuary is a privately founded corporation, and is just over 20 years old. Gagen said it’s had its own evolution over the years. In 2004 it became a non-profit organization and incorporated as a “professional animal retirement center,” doing business as Black Pine Animal Park. In 2006, it moved from the founders’ original home and site to its current location on county-owned property.
“Our community was very, very supportive and generous in helping us to continue on with this mission when we needed to move in 2006,” she said.
Then in 2010, it changed its name from Park to Sanctuary in response to the ever-growing awareness of all of the different types of menageries that the public encounters around the country. It wanted to clarify what it is and isn’t.
“We are not a zoo,” Gagen said. “We don’t buy, sell, breed, trade or seek out animals. Our primary reason for being open to the public is to carry out our education mission; to talk about why these animals exist, where they come from, why we have to turn away over a hundred a year. It does, of course, provide funding to our effort.”
While Black Pine is not unique in taking in a variety of animals, Gagen said it is in a minority when it comes to the true sanctuaries that are in operation around the nation. She said it has several peers that focus on specific types of animals like big cats, and Black Pine keeps in contact with those sanctuaries more than any other.
“We are a little bit extraordinary – we have well over 50 species of animals living here. We’ve migrated away from a lot of things people would consider domestic things like pot-bellied pigs and donkeys and such, that we do have in residence, but at this point in time we’re not really anticipating focusing on that area or saying yes to a lot more of those requests because of the issues with the more dangerous animals needing homes,” she said.
Animals at the sanctuary have come from all over the country, as far away as South Carolina and Virginia, with quite a few from Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
“We’ll entertain any inquiry from anywhere, it’s just a matter of realistic resources and that sort of thing to actually participate in and help,” Gagen said.
The sanctuary is at full capacity, she noted, in terms of its annual budget and financial resources  at this time. Its infrastructure – water lines, electricity – also is at full capacity.
“We do have additional acreage that is not developed, but the costs of continuing and expanding in that way are not likely to happen unless some miracle happens in funding,” she said.
The sanctuary’s population is also stretching its capacity.
“A hundred animals is more than we’ve ever had,” Gagen said. “Our large animal population doubled from 2011 to last year, so that was a big influx. It’s added requirements for staffing as well.”
Of the 100 animals, roughly 70 percent were voluntarily surrendered by owners. The other 30 percent were forcibly removed, confiscated or recovered after being abandoned or having escaped.
Besides Gagen, there is only one other full-time paid position – an assistant manager – and one part-time paid position, a combined animal caretaker and veterinarian technician. All other staff are volunteers or college interns.
Since Black Pine is focused primarily on the well-being of the animals, and some of the animals are not accustomed to droves of people, Gagen said they are happy to share the sanctuary with the public and it’s important to share it, but the public has to visit with the same respect toward the animals the caretakers give.
“So we have a lot of rules. We have rules posted at the front door. We give a complete orientation when they walk in the door and pay to come in,” she said.
Black Pine has a couple different categories of visitation.
“We have what we call just general visitation. During the hours of general visitation anybody can come in and just explore, just similar to what they would in a zoo, just as long as they follow those rules. We are only offering general visitation when we are confident we have enough of our own staff to mentor and monitor what they’re doing. So you’re not going to see general visitation in March because we’re not fully staffed,” Gagen said.
Regularly guided sanctuary tours also are available. Those occur daily during June, July and August.
“We obviously would like the vast majority of people who come to Black Pine to take a guided tour so that we know that we have a captive audience to talk with them and enlighten them about what we do. Our experience has been that once people go through that experience at Black Pine, they really get it. The level of understanding and compassion for the animals that are victims of the pet trade really comes through in that way,” she said.
And during the off-season, from November to April, Black Pine does private guided tours by appointment only. Those are for ages 10 and up, due to safety concerns, because the visitors will be taken to more restricted and confined areas. The private tours are for a maximum of 12 people.
On Saturdays only, from May through October, a guided feeding tour is available. That is an opportunity to tag along with some of the more experienced animal caregivers who will feed some of the larger predatory animals. It’s a chance to see how the animals are fed safely.
Black Pine is hosting its Summer Fest Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Summer Fest has been going on at Black Pine for many, many years, always on the last Saturday of July,” Gagen said.
It’s twofold – a celebration of the people who worked throughout the summer to take care of the animals, and a different way for the visitors to take in Black Pine.
“There are no guided tours. In effect we’re doing guided tours all day but the groups come to the animals where we have staff located, so it’s a constant moving tour and the visitors really have an opportunity to visit at their leisure and encounter the same information they would on a guided tour, just in a less formal way,” she said.
There also will be concessions Saturday.
Regular sanctuary tour rates apply: ages 2 and under, free; ages 3-9, $7; ages 10-54, $8; and ages 55 and older, $7.50. Refreshments not included.
Black Pine was nominated for “Best Local Park” in the 2014 Fort Wayne newspapers Readers Choice Awards, something the park has previously won and been nominated for several years in a row. It’s also been nominated for “Best Children’s Entertainment.”
On its Facebook page, the sanctuary has many four- and five-star reviews. In the guestbook, people leave comments like “Awesome!” or “Love it!”
The guestbook also shows that so far this year, people from 31 states – including Hawaii, California and New York – have visited Black Pine. Visitors also come from other countries like Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
To learn more about Black Pine or how to donate to the non-profit, visit its website at www.blackpine.org/; follow it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/blackpineanimalsanctuary; or Twitter at https://twitter.com/bpsanctuary