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Earth-Speak Sanctuary

Animal sanctuary provides safe haven for exotic pets

CHELSEA KROTZER Of The Billings Gazette Staff 

Original Article

ROUNDUP — Cory Freeman is careful where she walks. She's never sure what creatures could be underfoot.

No one wants to trip over a 70-pound tortoise, unexpectedly cross paths with a 14-foot python or startle a boisterous parrot named Chuck.

She's already had to ride 60 feet high in a man lift to retrieve two baby goats trapped on top of the pillar of a bridge last year.

But that's just another day for Freeman, owner of Animal Ed.ventures Sanctuary in Roundup, a job that is a childhood dream realized.

“I've been working with exotic species forever, but more intensively in the past 15 years,” Freeman said. “I was just a hobbyist, and I had bought some rare animals that showed up in pet stores.”

Freeman bought a sugar glider — a small Australian marsupial — when they were a rarity in the pet trade.

“I got terrible information, and she got really sick,” Freeman said. “I bird-dogged my way around the nation until I found a vet who could help me.”

She didn't want the same thing to happen again to any exotic animal. Instead, she wanted to create a safe haven for them.

“Some of the pet stores were giving out information that was not accurate and not taking the time to make the research and make sure these animals were safe,” Freeman said. “I started my own education.”

About seven years ago after U.S. Department of Agriculture and state licensing, Freeman transformed her 300-acre property into a home for animals abandoned by their owners. With the exception of a few structures, she built most of the outbuildings with her own two hands — and a few extra pairs belonging to close friends.

She has plans to expand by building another

structure to house the increasing number of rescued, donated and rehabilitated animals. The new project will cost about $15,000.

As much as she loves the animals, it's not all about them. It's also about education.

“I do a lot of expanding horizons for kids,” Freeman said. “I want to bring faraway places to life in a totally different way than a textbook.”

Freeman said about 16 different species are on the property from every continent except Antarctica. The vast majority of them were rescued, like an albino Burmese python named Lois.

Lois was a rescue from Cody, Wyo. A man eventually agreed to sell the serpent to Freeman after she saw him walking through a park carrying her in a gym bag.

At the time, the snake was freezing and unable to move. But now she, along with two other pythons at the sanctuary, is rehabilitated and a popular attraction during the tours.

A Kinkajou named Sterling and a bush baby named Piper are also popular with children. The two are housed together in a cage in the back of the building. During the day, they spend most of their time napping in a fish-shaped hammock.

Perhaps one of the strangest of the creatures is a long-nosed creature named Phoebe.

She's an anteater with a taste for raw burger.

The burger is mixed with different components to help re-create her natural diet and provide the nutrients that Phoebe needs. It took Freeman three months to come up with the perfect recipe.

Freeman took similar steps with all of the animals she looks after.

“She's the most thoughtful species I've ever worked with,” Freeman said as the animal licked the burger from her hands.

Unlike with most of the animals at the sanctuary, Freeman actually sought out Phoebe to use her as a learning tool for the hundreds of children and adults who tour the facility.

She had 540 tours last year and hopes to attract more visitors this year with slumber parties and day camps.

“They were all very fun and very well-received,” Freeman said. “What a great opportunity for kids. Wholesome activity.”

Most of the funding to keep the sanctuary afloat comes from donations, tour costs and Freeman's wallet.

Last summer, she had the ability to hire on an extra set of hands, along with her daughter Sophia. But now that Sophia is heading toward her teenage years, her interests are starting to wane.

“The sanctuary is my thing,” Freeman said. “It's about getting people involved and heightening awareness for the plight of exotic pets.”

Sandy Church of Rimrock Humane Society in Roundup has worked closely with Freeman over the past seven years.

Church is more comfortable handling dogs, cats and guinea pigs. But, whenever she gets an odd call, Freeman is the first on Church's list to contact.

“In my own neighborhood, we had a llama that someone let loose, and he just went wild,” Church said. “I called her up. She set up a pen and started feeding the llama in the pen and finally got him loaded.”

Freeman's knowledge has come in handy for more than just renegade livestock. She was the only person who Church thought would be able to save two baby goats perilously perched atop a bridge pillar last September.

“If anyone can figure out how to angle some goat off a ridge, it's going to be Cory,” Church said. “She has so much knowledge, and, even if she gets animals she doesn't know about, she's a research nut and makes sure that she is feeding them the right diet and that they are in the right environment.”

Freeman also came to the rescue during the removal of about 800 animals from a defunct animal sanctuary in Niarada. She's taking care of a couple of the cavies from that rescue.

“She's a good egg,” Church said. “We need more of her.”





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