Just south of Miami, past the bright lights and hustle of South Beach and Brickell, awaits one wild time for the whole family in Homestead.
How wild? Think bears and tigers. And lemurs and panthers and pelicans. And no, we are not talking about Zoo Miami. This is the Everglades Outpost, a small but scrappy refuge for animals, most of which were injured or abandoned by people, many of whom thought it would be a great idea to keep a wild animal as a pet. The mission: nurse the animals back to health and, where possible, return them to their habitat.
Rocky, a Siberian Bengal Hybrid, came to the Everglades Outpost at least 16 years ago. So long ago, in fact, most don’t remember how the tiger got there. They do know he was bought as a cub by an exotic dancer and that pairing just didn’t work out. So Rocky found a home at the Outpost.
His female companion, Cheeky, was confiscated by federal agents during a drug raid.
“To send these two tigers back to the wild, they would have to be traveling halfway around the world, and these tigers have no fear of humans because these tigers were raised among humans,” says Martha Frassica-Rivera, general manager and animal curator.
“Quite frankly, we would want them to be back in the wild, but logistically speaking, that is impossible.”
While some of the animals that are rescued and rehabilitated are found locally, others came from such areas as Tampa and the Carolina mountains, like Josh, an American black bear found after his mom was killed by hunters.
They also offer the ever popular alligator show.
“We are the only location in South Florida and perhaps Florida that does wildlife educational programs in a lagoon that is seven feet deep so we have to dive in to get the alligators,” Frassica-Rivera says. “That is really the only time we interact with them.”
Though there are plans to expand, the outpost is not huge. You can easily see it all in about an hour, unless you want to catch the shows.
Founder Bob Freer and his team actively work to maximize space for the animals. Recently, $16,000 went toward upgrades for the tiger’s enclosure.
“Our enclosures are actually several times larger than what the state requirement is,” says Frassica-Rivera.
Of course, these upgrades do not come without the occasional fundraiser, donations and visitors’ fees. Volunteers are also a crucial part of what keeps this non-profit going. Frassica-Rivera has seen many former Everglades Outpost volunteers go on to study and work with animals after their time at the refuge.
And Everglades Outpost’s work is important.
Where else can a tiger go when its stripper mom kicks it out the house?