Missouri is home to many fascinating examples of native wildlife, but tigers definitely aren’t one of them. That hasn’t stopped staff at Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary from giving big cats a safe, happy home if they need one.

Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., was founded in 2004 as a place of refuge for abused and neglected tigers. Despite the inherent dangers of keeping an exotic animal, Crown Ridge program coordinator Jeri Meeker says owning tigers and lions, whether for pleasure or profit, is tragically common in the Midwest. Missouri’s lack of clearly defined laws regarding exotic animal captivity makes it even worse. That’s where she and her staff come in.

“We are a rescue facility. All our animals are rescued from abuse and neglect situations right here in Missouri,” she says. “... There are over 5,000 tigers in the U.S. alone in bad conditions that need a better place to go.”

Big cat sanctuaries like Crown Ridge provide food, shelter, veterinary care, space to run, interaction with other animals and enrichment activities to keep the animals healthy and busy. Ms. Meeker says the goal is to give them as natural an environment as possible to mimic life in the wild.

“They will spend the rest of their lives here. We don’t buy, sell, breed or trade them,” she says.

Currently, Crown Ridge is home to three tigers — Izzy, Thor and Gracie — and one lioness, Alexis. Most of them were rescued from roadside zoos or carnivals with miserable living conditions, but they’ve grown into happy adults. The sanctuary is prepared to take in more animals if the need arises since there are multiple play yards, enclosures and room to grow.

Ms. Meeker, her staff and other supporters are working to pass legislation that would ban all private exotic animal ownership, including using them in circuses. Eventually, she hopes there will be a day when animal sanctuaries are no longer needed. Until then, Crown Ridge serves not just as a home for tigers, but a place for the public to learn more about them.

From April until November, Crown Ridge hosts open tours every hour on the hour for families, schools, churches, businesses, birthday parties and more. Visitors are guided through the property to get to know each of the animal residents. Staff members talk about where each cat came from and shines light on their individual personalities. Depending on the type and length of the tour, some groups even get to participate in feedings or enrichment activities. The property also houses an education center, a restaurant and three different lodging options owned by the local Crown Valley Winery for guests to stay overnight.

Most of all, Ms. Meeker hopes visitors to Crown Ridge leave with an awareness of what life is like for captive exotic animals and hopefully have the desire to help in any capacity they can, whether that means donating meat or pushing to end abuse and neglect by private owners.

“Our tagline is, ‘Giving animals a voice.’ We’re trying to give them a voice so that (guests are) aware of the plight of the tigers,” she says.

To learn more about Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary, visit crownridgetigers.com or call (573) 883-9909. Tours are by reservation only until April.

Brooke Wilson can be reached

at brooke.wilson@newspressnow.com.

Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPWilson.