On Safari at Tippi Hedren’s big cat wonderland in Acton, CA.
Off Highway 14, in between Santa Clarita and Palmdale, you’ll find Acton — a high desert city that’s home to just over 7,500 people, dozens of filming locations, and 28 big cats.
One special weekend each month (and on other days for private groups or parties) The Shambala Preserve opens its gates to the public for a series of exciting and informative “safaris” through the world of the big cats, all of whom are endangered or threatened species.
No living monkeys live on the preserve.
Kind of looks like a movie set doesn’t it? Well it was. Shambala sits on land that was originally purchased by Tippi Hedren and her film producer husband Noel Marshall to shoot “the most dangerous movie ever made”, “Roar”.
Over 70 of the cast and crew were injured during the production of the film. Cinematographer Jan de Bont had his scalp lifted by a lion, resulting in 220 stitches. Tippi Hedren received a fractured leg and also had scalp wounds. This occurred after an elephant bucked her off its back while she was riding it. She was also bitten in the neck by a lion and required 38 stitches. Melanie Griffith (Hedren’s daughter) was also attacked, receiving 50 stitches to her face; it was feared she would lose an eye, but she recovered and was not disfigured. No injuries occurred during our afternoon safari, which consisted of a 3 hour planned program and walking tour of the facilities.
Shambala has 30 emergency animal evacuation trailers for each of the 28 cats in case of fire, floods or any other emergencies.
The grounds are peppered with sculptures & bronze statues that have been donated to the preserve over the years.
Our first tiger along the tour was a real thriller. Name: Sabu Birthdate: November 20, 1998 Former Home: Neverland Ranch, Los Olivos, CA Shambala Arrival Date: May 4, 2006
When Michael Jackson decided to close his zoo at his Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos, CA and place his animals at other facilities, he consulted with his animals’ long time zoological Veterinarian, Dr. Martin Dinnes and asked him which Sanctuary would make the best home for his tigers, “Thriller” and “Sabu”. A quality facility was Jackson’s priority. Dr. Dinnes took little time in suggesting The Roar Foundation’s Shambala Preserve. In common with all the other animals Shambala takes in, (which now total 28 non-domestic felines including leopards, lions, other tigers, servals, cheetah, mountain lions) these tigers from Neverland came with no endowment for their future care. Acceptance of them by The Shambala Preserve could not be taken lightly as it costs a great deal of money to properly care for them the rest of their lives. The lifetime commitment for these animals is over 20 years, therefore taking in these 7 year old tigers is more than a 13 year commitment.
For a donation of $3000 you can spend the night in one of their safari tents amongst the big cats. “This exciting event begins one hour prior to the Sunset Safari, with a greeting from the Shambala Staff, at which time you will be given bottles of a cold refreshing drink and your bags will be taken to the tent. Then you will join the Sunset Safari tour to meet the magnificent residents. Our staff photographer, Bill Dow, will follow along in order to record this wonderful day for you. After the party, there will be time to relax in the tent before you are served dessert, at which time you will be joined by your gracious hostess, Tippi Hedren and Shambala director Chris Gallucci.”
“After dessert you take a midnight safari to say goodnight to the Wild Ones and ask them to please roar all night long! Then it is back to the tent to drift off to sleep while listening to the mesmerizing sounds of the lions roaring and the mystical sounds of other wildlife that surrounds you. You awaken in the morning to the roar of the lions and the voices of other wildlife on the preserve. You will believe you are really in Africa! Muffins, fruit, and juice will be on the veranda for your breakfast, and you can shower while watching the tiger or lion who lives in a compound close by, and they can watch you!”
Savannah came to Shambala from a private owner who was boarding her at Tiger Rescue. When Tiger Rescue was closed down the owner brought Savannah to Shambala.
At the Tiger Rescue sanctuary in Colton, CA John Weinhart was known as Tarzan, a man with a mystical connection to the big cats he boasted of saving from circuses, films and television productions. When he walked into a pen of leopards, the animals would fight over who got to rub against him, recalled Marlon Hilbert, an employee of the exotic cat sanctuary that Weinhart ran for over 30 years. “I live with them,” Weinhart told a newspaper reporter in 2000. “The pores of my skin smell like a tiger. So when I go around one I know they accept me as a tiger.” But the image of John Weinhart as the benevolent rescuer gave way to a far different portrait in 2003 when officials raidedhis Riverside County home and discovered 90 dead tigers, including 58 cubs found in freezers. The raid came months after prosecutors charged Weinhart with a variety of violations at the shelter, including breeding animals without a permit, failure to clean animal cages and supplying animals with insufficient food and water.
Name: Alexander Birthdate: May 1, 2002 Former Home: Tiger Rescue, Colton, CA Shambala Arrival Date: November 22, 2002
Alexander and his sister the late Stella and another tiger named Dakota arrived from Tiger Rescue in Colton, CA. The tiger cubs were living in unhealthy conditions and the shelter was shut down by the Department of Fish & Game. When they arrived at Shambala they were six months old and had severe mange which required treatment. Fortunately Alexander is in a much better place today.
Melanie Griffith used to swim with big cats in there.
Name: Natasha Birthdate: 1996 Former Home: Scotchplains Zoo in New Jersey Shambala Arrival Date: September 1997
Only fake zebras roam the grounds of Shambala.
Lily & Henson, a lion love story. Lily came to Shambala in 2000 from the Michigan Humane society after she was confiscated from a private owner.
Her den mate and lover Henson also came to Shambala in 2000. He was owned by a private owner in Georgia who was on parole. He took Henson across state lines which violated his parole. As a result, Henson was confiscated. He got his name from the generous benefactor, Muppet maker Henson Productions who paid for his flight from Georgia to Shambala.
Only fake giraffes roam the grounds of Shambala.
Tippi starred in two of Alfred Hitchcock’s most successful movies, The Birds and Marnie. He ended up destroying her career after she rejected his advances.
Simba came to Shambala from a private owner. They had been told she would make a good pet. They had her declawed on both the front and back paws but at two months she was biting them and tearing up their home. They finally realized that tigers do not make good pets and she was brought to Shambala on July 7, 2003.
Crossing over to TippiLand. Tippi actually lives on the property in a lovely manufactured home. She usually comes out and talks during the safaris but she recently had an operation and was still recovering:(
Name: Zoe Birthdate: April 2003 Former Home: Tiger Rescue, Colton, CA Shambala Arrival Date: August 4, 2003 Zoe and her sister Mona were confiscated from Tiger Rescue in Colton, CA when they were closed down for poor conditions. The cubs were found in an air conditioner vent when the home was raided. They were about 10 days old at the time. They were taken in by the Fund for Animals in Ramona, CA and then were brought to Shambala when they were 4 months old. Zoe had been spayed but she arrived with severe cataracts and could barely see. The Wild One Parents pooled together to get Zoe her much needed cataracts surgery. The surgery was so detailed and the cataracts so severe they were only able to do one eye as they didn’t want to keep her under for longer to do the second eye. She now is able to see just fine with use of her one “good” eye.
Don’t forget to check out the gift shop where you can grab yourself a DVD copy (does anyone buy these anymore) of Tippi’s biggest movies.
Shambala offers Safari Tour’s one weekend per month for only $25. Check it out, it’s worth it and you may be lucky enough to actually meet Tippi herself.