Not so long ago in a sanctuary not that far away (It's in Wylie, Texas), three young tigers found a safe haven that's given them a second chance at life -- and an enclosure as unique as their names.
"If we can give them one day, that's enough"
For more than two decades, In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Educational Center has taken in and cared for big cats from across the state, country, and world.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal in Texas to privately own an exotic animal like a tiger, or even keep one as a pet.
Cubs are readily available for sale online.
Although some cities have rules prohibiting the animals from being kept within city limits, state law only requires that owners have the proper permits, an enclosure that meets minimum standards, a $100,000 animal liability insurance policy, and the name of a veterinarian.
Angela Culver, Media Director for In-Sync Exotics, says the animals often end up in breeding mills, so that owners can make money off photos and hands-on experiences with cubs.
In many instances, the owners don't have the time, resources, or knowledge to properly care for the cats, particularly when they're full-grown adults.
So when the owners are ready to give the animals up – or if they're seized by state wildlife authorities – they're sent to certified facilities like In-Sync Exotics.
"We're a true sanctuary," Culver said. "We rescue abused, neglected, or abandoned exotic cats. "A lot of these cats have come from really, really terrible circumstances and backgrounds. So when they come to us we want them to know that they're safe, that they will be healthy, and that they will happy for the rest of their lives."
The sanctuary is currently home to more than 70 exotic cats, including tigers, lions, cougars, and cheetahs.
They do not buy, sell, trade, or breed the animals.
They do allow the public to visit their facility on weekends so they can raise awareness and funds to help cover the costs of caring for the animals.
"If we can give [the cats] just one day, that's enough," Culver said with tears in her eyes.
The Jedi Boys
In 2018, In-Sync Exotics took in a pair of rare white tigers that had been seized by wildlife authorities in Webb County.
When they arrived in Wylie, sanctuary staff discovered the female tiger, Zahra, was pregnant.
She gave birth to a male cub on March 6 – but her motherly instincts never kicked in, and the cub was left to fend for himself.
To save him, the staff had to hand raise him.
A few months later, another male cub was brought to them. Border Patrol agents found him abandoned in a duffle bag near the U.S. / Mexico border – the apparent victim of illegal wildlife smuggling.
And that fall, a third male cub was sent to them from a facility in the Texas panhandle that did not have the means to care for him.
Because all three tigers were approximately the same age – and because tigers in the wild typically grow up with littermates -- the sanctuary thought they could potentially form a family unit.
After a slow and careful introduction process, take to each other, they did.
"And now those three are completely inseparable," Culver said. They are best friends. They are brothers. They spend all day playing together, napping together, sneaking up on each other, playing tag."
As for their names -- the sanctuary's founder, Vicky Keahey, is a big fan of Star Wars. And so on a whim, she decided to call them Kylo Ren, Kenobi, and Anakin respectively.
The staff now refers to them lovingly as the "Jedi Boys."
"She definitely wanted to nod to the balance between light and dark," Culver said. "Kylo Ren can be a little bit of a spoiled brat sometimes. Kenobi is very sweet, he's very much the peacemaker. Anakin is a little bit of an instigator. Their names fit them just perfectly."
The Millennium Falcon Pool
Unlike most cat species, tigers enjoy water – and are strong swimmers.
It's why each of the tiger enclosures at In-Sync Exotics has its own in-ground pool.
When it came time for the Jedi Boys to get one of their own, sanctuary staff wanted to do something special.
"What else are you going to build them other than the Millennium Falcon?" Culver laughed.
After a successful fundraising campaign, they installed a pool in the shape of the iconic spaceship.
And the tigers love it.
"Just like kids in the summer, trying to get them out of the pool is – no," Culver said.
How You Can Help
In-Sync Exotics is a non-profit and relies entirely on donations to operate and care for the animals.
For more information on how you can donate, visit their website.
The sanctuary is located at 3430 Skyview Drive in Wylie, TX.