Shambala Wildlife Preserve: Big cats are not pets

Full Frame

Shambala Wildlife Preserve is sanctuary for exotic animals

This week, Full Frame ventured inside the Shambala Wildlife Preserve, a sanctuary for exotic animals that wildlife authorities confiscate from private owners who cannot maintain and provide for the animals they have purchased.

Legendary Hollywood icon Tippi Hedren and her then-husband, Noel Marshall, bought land in Soledad Canyon to house animals and use as the set of their film “Roar,” which would feature wild cats as the main characters.  After the movie’s production ended, Hedren stayed in Soledad Valley and renamed it Shambala Wildlife Preserve.

“We don’t buy, sell, breed, or trade. What we do is clean up someone else’s mess,” said Chris Gallucci, the vice president of operations and director of Shambala.

The name of the preserve comes from the Sanskrit word “Shambal,” which means “a meeting place of peace and harmony for all beings, animal and human.” True to its roots, the Shambala Preserve has given sanctuary to more than 235 exotic animals.

According to Gallucci, many people don’t understand that captivity actually prevents these animals from ever being able to survive in the wild.

“People will ask sometimes, ‘Well, why don’t you turn them loose?’ Once an animal has a human imprint on it, it’s ruined. They have no mother to teach them how to act in the wild. Survival isn’t just about killing – killing is easy. Survival is about knowing when to lay low and when to hide. And an animal from captivity has never learned any of that,” Gallucci said.

Shambala Wildlife Preserve is sanctuary for exotic animals

Shambala Wildlife Preserve serves as a sanctuary for exotic animals, most of which have been confiscated from private owners who find that they cannot maintain and provide for the wild animals.

Gallucci started as welder on the set of “Roar,” but his deep fascination with the film’s gigantic bull elephant named Timbo and the sudden resignation of the film’s elephant trainer motivated Gallucci to apply for the job – a decision that completely transformed the course of his life.

Today, Gallucci is recognized as the “real Elephant Man.” He spends his days nurturing the preserve’s animals and educating people about animal captivity.

“Somebody has to do the stuff that people don’t like to do, or don’t want to talk about, and it’s my job,” Gallucci said. “But it’s also unbelievably rewarding to take and animal that will eat you and to make it your deal every day to try to give that animal a life.”

Gallucci gave Full Frame an exclusive tour of the Shambala Wildlife Preserve and shared details from his experience with providing exotic animals a second chance at a life more attuned to what nature intended.

To learn more about Gallucci’s efforts, visit