With nothing but a passion for animals and a concern about the plight of the tiger, Brian Werner started Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge as a division or project of Tiger Missing Link Foundation. He did this to build a unique educational facility and to help take in the unwanted tigers and other big cats that were being abandoned, neglected or displaced because of the exotic market boom in the late 1980’s through the mid 90's.
In 1995, Brian had founded and originated; Tiger Missing Link Foundation in an effort to start documenting tigers in captivity outside of accredited zoos. The first tiger that Brian had acquired participated in the first genetic testing of tigers through the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the results astonished everyone. The tiger turned out to be an Indochinese tiger, a species of tiger that not many zoos even have. This led to the theory that we cannot discard tigers that are being kept in captivity; whether in sanctuaries, small zoos or in private hands, and label them as generic or “junk” tigers. These captive tigers are more genetically diverse than both wild tigers and those located within the nation's zoos. If we are going to save a species from becoming extinct, we must look at every individual out there that represents that species because every tiger matters.
In 1998, Brian, along with his family formed the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge on the 25 acres that Brian had purchased in 1988-89 while home on Leave from the U.S. Navy.
After the military service, in 1993; he, his wife and 4 of his older children moved onto the property and lived in a small barn red cabin living off the grid with no running water. They started hand clearing land, building small cages and preparing a place for unwanted tigers. they recruited any volunteer that they could find to help build and care for the cats.
At first we could only afford smaller enclosures with exercise yards to rotate the cats through. We knew this wouldn't be permanent, but for the time being, it would work. There were many struggles and sometimes things seemed overwhelming, but we knew there was no turning back.
We wanted and needed people to start visiting the refuge, but we had limited means on giving the visitor a great experience. We were very nervous that people would not share our dreams and goals, and therefore not support us, but what we found was quite the opposite. People loved what we were doing for the big cats and knew we would not let anything hold us back on building the best refuge.
With small steps we soon moved out of the little red cabin and turned it into an intermediate feed room. That little red cabin has now been completely restored and will be made part of the tour for the visitors as a reminder of our humble beginning.
Next we added a small kiosk that served as a check in point for visitors and we offered some gift shop items to sell. The kiosk resembled a fireworks stand at best. We were really thrilled when the local Coca-Cola representative approached us about a soda machine they had with a picture of a African Lion on the front!
The small growth was exciting for us, but we knew we had a long road ahead of us. Our dreams and goals of rescuing big cats and working in tiger conservation kept us moving ahead.