SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARKI haven't been to Black Pine Animal Sanctuary since they moved to their present location, just a few miles outside of Albion in the Noble County 4H Park. They used to be by the cemetery on the west edge of town, and when the lion there roared, it sounded like he was right outside my back window. (That particular beast passed away, and can now be seen at the Noble County Public Library's main branch.) No alarm clock could beat that.
It was humid and around 87 degrees when Emily and I arrived, but at least we weren't covered in fur.
"What are you complainin' about? I can't just take this thing off and hang it up, you know."
I manned the camera, and managed to get a few good shots. Keep in mind that Black Pine's enclosure are more about safety and animal comfort; although they get operating funds through tours and other visitor efforts, this is not a zoo. Just the same, although some of the enclosures aren't particularly camera friendly, you can otherwise see just fine.
"Can't see me, hah! No, really, you can't see me. Stop looking. I've got a reputation to maintain."
Black Pine is a rescue facility: A sanctuary for exotic animals that were surrendered or abandoned by their owners, confiscated by authorities, or retired from entertainment venues. With only three paid staff members along with interns and volunteers, the sanctuary's job is to save and protect animals, and educate humans.
I left feeling pretty educated. For instance, if a tiger pees on you it smells like buttered popcorn. Guess I’ll be snacking on something else for awhile …
I also learned that no matter how thick the glass may be between you and the alligator, when he’s three feet from you it’s still possible to tell what he’s thinking. Or her. I didn’t get up the nerve to ask.
"Hey, c'mon over here, have a seat. I'm just a nice, comfortable log. Honest.
Community support from companies and individuals, a dedicated staff, and often donated supplies keep the place going. Although it may not have the comfy-cozy infrastructure of a big ticket place like a city zoo, the variety of animals, the educational opportunities, and the events that go on make this a hidden gem of Albion, Noble County, and all of northeast Indiana. More importantly, it's fun.
I’m not sure if the animals felt that way, although I can say with some degree of confidence that the chimpanzee thought I was hilarious.
"The slapping, the being called cowardly ... we won't be seeing that Dorothy chick again, I assure you. Or her yapping little dog."
You can go on a self-guided walk about the sanctuary, but I'd recommend the guided tours, which last about an hour and a half. We got to see the bears being fed, and heard personal details about individual animals -- even the nocturnal ones who wouldn't show their heads. I also ran into executive director Lori Gagen, who had a giant cat rubbing against her leg (through a fence, but still) like it was Morris asking for din-din, and who had to nudge a bear out of its nap without the fence. With friends like that, you don’t need pepper spray.
Check out their schedule of tours and special events at www.blackpine.org, or give them a call at (260) 636-7383. Tours start at $7 for kids -- Emily and I got in for $16. Totally worth it.
"You look very juicy - I mean, friendly. Come just a little closer ..."