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Meet the (Real) Tiger Queen

Lions, Tigers & Bears is San Diego’s only accredited big cat and bear sanctuary

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Lions Tigers & Bears / Lion

Bobbi Brink had one simple goal in mind when she and her husband decided to open their big cat and bear sanctuary, Lions Tigers & Bears: To do it right. The lifelong animal lover had seen the dark side of the exotic animal trade, where big cats like leopards and lions were being bred and sold as personal pets or for entertainment, and she knew she needed to break the cycle.

Lions Tigers & Bears / Bobbi Brink

Bobbi Brink

“Once these animals are fed and cared for by humans, they can’t go back into the wild. If they could, they definitely wouldn’t come here,” Brink says. “Our place is kind of their last chance, a place to peacefully live out the rest of their lives.”

Tucked away across 93 quiet acres in Alpine, the sanctuary is just that—a peaceful retirement home for more than 60 exotic animals. It has plenty of space to roam, an endless list of enrichment tools to keep them occupied, constant health checkups, and even a memorial site dedicated to the furry residents who lived out their last years there. As a strict no-contact facility, the sanctuary allows the animals a chance to live like they would in the wild—while remaining in a safe and monitored environment. It’s a federal- and state-licensed rescue facility, and one of the few in the country to be accredited by both the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the American Sanctuary Association.

Beyond taking care of her current tenants, Brink is committed to education and sparking discussion about animal conservation. In recent months, those conversations have taken the form of debunking the exotic animal breeding myths perpetuated by the roadside zoos featured in Netflix’s Tiger King. “Those animals are bred for nothing more than profit,” Brink says. “By allowing the public to pet and play with them, the animals inevitably suffer and get shoved out the back door once they’re no longer considered useful.”

When an opportunity arises to intervene in those cases, Brink leaps into action. Over the years, she and her team have coordinated more than 600 rescues of big cats, bears, wolves, and others in need of permanent refuge, most often rescuing them from private homes. Some have settled in at Lions Tigers & Bears, while others were relocated to sanctuaries of the same accreditation.

Running this massive operation is no easy feat. The rescue projects can last anywhere from a few days to months at a time. The day-to-day tasks keep her team—a mix of staff and volunteers—occupied at all hours. To help manage the costs of running the sanctuary, financial donations are always needed. On average, Brink spends $230,000 each year on feed alone. And because of their location in Alpine, she says watching out for wildfires is a year-round duty. In case of fire, she has multiple plans in place, ranging from stand-by evacuations, where they remain on site, to full evacuations, where the animals are transported in moving cages to predetermined safe spots. The sanctuary has had to evacuate a handful of times since opening.

Lions Tigers & Bears / Sign

In addition to its resident lions, tigers, and bears (American and Himalayan black bears and grizzly bears), the sanctuary also houses other animals, including mountain lions, black and spotted leopards, bobcats, servals, llamas, horses, goats, sheep, chickens, peacocks, a macaw, and one friendly house cat who roams the property.

To those interested in learning more about animal conservation, Brink encourages making an appointment online to tour the sanctuary. Through a number of unique encounter experiences, guests can safely view and feed the animals (from a distance, through the fence), explore the grounds, and learn more about the animals’ rescue stories.

The work never stops. Recently, Lions Tigers & Bears opened a lodging experience that allows guests to tour the grounds and stay in a home right on the property. In the future, they plan to expand the sanctuary to make room for more enclosures and more rescue animals.

But even in these busy moments, Brink says the rewards are endless. “Watching people come together to make a difference never fails to amaze me. This kind of work takes a lot of effort and dedication, and to see the passion that this team has for animals is pretty special.”

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