CALHAN, Colo. — Serenity Springs Wildlife Center in Calhan is now under new ownership.
A big cat sanctuary based in Eureka Springs, Arkansas has taken over but not without controversy.
Serenity Springs opened in 1993 as a licensed zoological and exhibitor park. It wasn’t until owner Nick Sculac was diagnosed with cancer that the wildlife center was put up for sale.
Tanya Smith, founder of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, heard about Serenity Springs’ troubles and decided to buy it. Now both sides say neither party is holding up their end of the deal.
A final decision to go through with the purchase came only about a month ago but since then the sale has gone sour.
Nick and his wife Julie said the agreement was to keep Serenity Springs open and all of the animals there, but Smith said there’s not enough space for the animals to stay there and until it’s up to regulation, the center can’t open to the public.
Nick said, “We sold it to her as is, where it was, that was it. We’ve been 23 years doing it and they were fine. They were all happy.”
By way of comparison, there are about 110 animals at the 460-acre sanctuary in Arkansas. Almost the exact same number of animals have been living on 12-acres at Serenity Springs.
“To be licensed in the state of Colorado we have to get a Colorado Wildlife Permit to be open to the public and stuff and to do that you have to meet the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries guidelines, which we do in Arkansas, we meet those guidelines,” said Smith.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife manager handling this case told FOX21 Serenity Springs was able to keep the doors open because they were grandfathered under a statute. However, for Turpentine Creek to take over as a sanctuary, they have to meet all regulations – it’s something Smith says will not be easy.
“There’s no jump guard on this fencing either so that is part of Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, we’ve got to be able to lock the animals down properly,” said Smith. “They have to have proper night houses.”
Turpentine Creek has now placed more than 50 animals from Serenity Springs in other accredited sanctuaries around the U.S., which is what the Sculacs are mostly upset about.
“It was a well-functioning facility that is very well loved by the community.” Julie said, “There’s lots of donors that want to go out there and visit their animals.”
“We’re not collecting any of the money through the donations for Serenity Springs,” said Smith. “All of that information was supposed to be turned over to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge because one non-profit dissolves when another non-profit steps in and that just hasn’t happened.”
But the Sculacs say that wasn’t part of the deal.
“Get our animals back, leave them there, upgrade the facility like you said you were going to do since you have all this money now.” Julie said. “People will come. People love it – they’ve said it on our Facebook.”
Nick and Julie say they’ve hired an attorney to fight Turpentine Creek. While we were interviewing them, a police officer actually served them a restraining order to stay away from the Smiths.
For more information on Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, visit their website, www.TurpentineCreek.org.