TIERART Wild Animal Sanctuary in Germany is a project in cooperation with the association TIERART e.V. It provides a species-appropriate home for rescued big cats and other native wild animals.
Christopher Nunheim is the Chief Animal Caretaker for big cats at TIERART Wild Animal Sanctuary and has been part of the FOUR PAWS family for more than four years now. In this interview, Christopher gives us an exclusive look behind the scenes in the sanctuary!
Can you describe an average day at work?
It's hard to describe an average day at work because they are always different. But normally we check the animals and the enclosures first thing each day. Then we clean everything and prepare the food. During the day we have training sessions and also have to give some of the animals medications at different times. Besides this, we also take care of the enrichment.
What is one of your favorite things about working in the sanctuary?
My favorite thing about working at the sanctuary is to see how the animals overcome their past traumas and find a new and better life. Often the animals are unwell when they come to us. To see them rise, grow stronger and become healthy (maybe for the first time in their life) is really something special.
What's the most unusual experience you've had working at the sanctuary?
The most unusual experience so far was definitely when we rescued Jill and Sahib, the two tigers who lived at a circus, and brought them to our sanctuary. The whole process – the planning, the very stressful and emotional (but good) day, and seeing them finally in their enclosure – is something I will never forget. Also the day Bela and Sharuk left TIERART to go to LIONSROCK was very emotional.
What's one thing that makes your job feel special?
Watching our animals do their favorite thing. To see Varvara lounge around in the sun, or Tikam and Cara playing with their balls is always something that makes me smile. Especially if we recall where they came from and their past.
What has been one of the most gratifying or memorable parts of your job?
To see how Varvara is improving bit by bit every day after being very ill two years ago.
What is one of the most challenging aspects of working with animals/working with the sanctuary?
The fact that there is no day like the day before. It happens so often that I come to work with a plan in mind about what I will do today and within the first five minutes, everything changes.
Do you have a favorite animal at the sanctuary? If so, why?
Yes! It's Tikam, our young male Puma. The reason why he is my favorite animal is the fact that I took care of him from the very beginning. When Tikam came to TIERART he was only a few weeks old and I spent so much time raising him and doing everything I could to help him become the big and strong Puma that he is now.
How has your work at the sanctuary changed your life and impacted your family/friends/community?
Since I was a young child, I was really into animals and wildlife but working for FOUR PAWS has changed my point of view about keeping animals. Especially when I think of all the animals still living in circuses. My family and friends become more open-minded in this respect and think about animal welfare differently now.
What did you do before you joined FOUR PAWS?
Before I joined FOUR PAWS, I worked in a regular Zoo as an animal caretaker.
What do you like to do outside of work? What do you feel passionate about?
Outside of work, I really love riding my motorcycle and going hiking in the woods. I'm also passionate about music and playing the guitar and some other instruments.