For Alex and Loki, our two resident tigers at our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, spring brings lots of new opportunities for fun and play. Loki, especially, loves hunkering down in the tall grass in his enclosure at the sanctuary, says Noelle Almrud, the director of Black Beauty Ranch. When his caretakers stop by to offer food and enrichments, he pops out, hoping to surprise them. “It’s cute to watch,” she says.

This season has also brought many changes for the sanctuary, the forever home of more than 800 animals, including primates, horses, bears, big cats and farm animals, as staff members have pivoted swiftly to adjust to new procedures and protocols during the coronavirus pandemic. One thing that hasn’t changed: the state-of-the-art care the animals receive.

When it was founded more than four decades ago, Black Beauty Ranch was meant to be a secure, secluded place where animals who had endured suffering of the worst kind would be nurtured and looked after, not gawked at as they would be at a roadside zoo. At the front gate of the ranch, an inscription, taken from the last lines of Anna Sewell's novel "Black Beauty," reads “I have nothing to fear, and here my story ends. My troubles are all over, and I am at home.”

Indeed, the majority of the animals here have endured neglect and cruelty before their arrival. Alex had been living in a tiny cage for years, a far cry from his life today. At the Black Beauty Ranch, he and Loki—who was rescued from a filthy garage in Houston where he had been living by himself as someone’s pet—spend their days in their spacious enclosures sunning themselves, rolling in the grass and splashing in a pond.

Many of the horses at the ranch were rescued from cruelty or neglect situations, the primates from biomedical research. Given their history, it is extremely important for us that even in these difficult times that they have everything they need so they can continue to thrive.

One of the first things Noelle and her colleagues did after news of the pandemic was to increase the stock of supplies, including food, medication and supplements necessary to maintain the high level of care the animals deserve.  The sanctuary’s veterinary team is now working in separate shifts to ensure that if members of one team gets sick, there is another team available to care for the animals.

Administrative personnel are working remotely, and staff members are prohibited from coming to work if they have a fever or are showing any signs of respiratory illness. “We are making sure that all teams have appropriate personal protection equipment, and the necessary tools to do their jobs while staying safe. Strict sanitizing protocols for vehicles and buildings are also in place,” Noelle says.

With Alex, Loki and the primates here, there is an additional anxiety at the moment. Earlier this month a tiger tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo, and although that is not a concern here, the Black Beauty Ranch has adopted rigorous protocols to ensure that those taking care of the animals are well protected. Caretakers, who are considered essential workers, wear personal protection equipment, including gloves, masks and face shields. “The animals look at the staff strangely and curiously, perhaps wondering what’s going on. But besides that, they haven’t been negatively impacted at all.”

Because of the pandemic, all visitor, donor and volunteer visits have been canceled until the end of May. But you can still make a virtual visit: Noelle and her team are now doing a Facebook Live event every Wednesday at 2 p.m. central time to give people a glimpse into life at the sanctuary during the pandemic and share the experiences of its many residents. This week, they introduced viewers to Bubba the camel, who was rescued from a cruelty and neglect situation in Florida. As Noelle explains in the video, Bubba was emaciated when he was first rescued and arrived at the South Florida SPCA a year ago. He began his journey to health there, has put on additional weight since arriving at Black Beauty Ranch, and is now a healthy and happy animal with more than 18 beautiful acres to roam around in. In the video, Bubba can be seen interacting with his caretakers and chomping down on alfalfa treats, very much at home.

This is a challenging time at Black Beauty Ranch, but the special people responsible for delivering optimal care and attention for the animals there have stepped up even higher. We are grateful to our dedicated staff and to all of you for your continued support for our work and for the animals in our care.

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