Barry Kirshner Wildlife Foundation
By Enjoy Magazine
September 2011AT TWO YEARS OLD, Dr. Dallas, a Barbary lioness at the Barry Kirshner Wildlife Foundation, has just found her roar. Evenings get a little noisy at the foundation, but the all-volunteer staff react with pride at her new stage of development. Like Dally, as she's affectionately known, the foundation itself is finding its roar. Recently moved to a new 19-acre location just beyond the main Butte College campus, the 24-hour sanctuary sports new pens and big plans for a demonstration amphitheater, visitors' center and summer camp area.
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Bret Christensen
Barry Kirshner was a gentle soul whose dream of establishing a wildlife foundation was cut short by a car accident in 1994, the year he took in his first animal, a mountain lion named Tigger. "He wanted to work with special needs children and wounded animals to teach them that you don't have to be perfect to get along in the world and have all your dreams come true," says his mom, Roberta Kirshner. Indeed, all animals at the foundation are rescues of some sorts. Some suffer from neurological problems from inbreeding, such as the white Bengal tigers; others aren't meant to roam wildly in North America, such as the red foxes. "We're the last stop for so many," she adds.
Roberta had worked with wild exotic animals since age 13, when she started following a neighbor around who was an animal trainer in the movie industry. She took on her son's foundation upon his death, when she completely rearranged her life to make it her focus. Arriving from Canada to make funeral arrangements for Barry, she got a wide look at his goals and mission and decided to adopt them as her own.
Today, the Barry Kirshner Wildlife Foundation houses around 70 animals, including mammals, reptiles and birds. A visit provides a rare opportunity to see, among other animals, white Bengals, a clouded leopard, grizzly bears, a Siberian Lynx, ring-tailed lemurs and Fennoc Foxes named Mulder and Scully. There are also ligers, the result male lion breeding with a female tiger. There are estimated to be only 100 ligers in the United States, and two of them reside at the foundation.
A few animals have even been media divas. Nyala is an 11-year-old tiger who gained fame in the Exxon Mobil "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" campaign. She arrived at the Barry Kirshner Foundation after having a "blowup" on set. Overworked and underfed when she arrived, she is now plumping up and living a life of ease.
For Roberta and the scores of volunteers who help her, the foundation is an important educational tool for healing and teaching. Noting that none of the animals are pets, they offer a Meet Your Neighbor program to help the public learn about wildlife without touching them. Of the kids who have experienced time with animals through the Make a Wish Foundation, Roberta notes with reverence that "a lot of them will say that this was the best day of their life."
Barry had a pledge that he asked visitors to take when he first opened: "I will always protect the earth and all the creatures on it. I will have respect for all life, including my fellow humans so there will always be a balance in nature."
In keeping with the mission to serve both humans and animals with special needs, all volunteers at the Barry Kirshner Foundation are trained in American Sign Language. Tours of the foundation are available in nine languages and eight levels of education.
The foundation is a very popular place for school field trips and is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday. Visitors may take a self-guided tour or call ahead to schedule a guided tour. Ben Colbeck, a young volunteer tour guide, is a wealth of knowledge about the animals and aspires to train his own on the property. He is currently working with a baby coyote he named Esmerelda.
Roberta, Ben and a host of other volunteers are happy to introduce visitors to Dr. Dallas, Mulder, Scully, and diva Nyala as well as a host of other rare and exotic animals that they shower with love. If you happen to find your own roar, all the better.
Barry Kirshner Wildlife Foundation
4995 Durham-Pentz Rd., Oroville, CA 95965
(530) 533-1000 | Tuesday-Sunday 9 am-5pm