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Wells run dry at Chestatee Wildlife Preserve

Nonprofit may need to drill for new water source; transfer of animals is a possibility

POSTED: November 5, 2007 5:03 a.m.
Lions and tigers and bears ... and no water.

That’s the problem at Chestatee Wildlife Preserve, a nonprofit animal sanctuary near Dahlonega.

"Two of our three wells are dry, and the other one is not usable right now," said C.W. Wathen, founder and manager of the preserve.

The 20-acre property is home to more than 250 animals, most of them exotic species, some of them endangered. The menagerie includes rare white Siberian tigers, bears, lions, chimpanzees, antelope, deer, water buffalo, reptiles and tropical birds.

Wathen said he needs at least 3,000 gallons a day just to provide the animals with drinking water, even after cutting out all other water uses such as bathing.

"We’ve got a lot of hoofed stock, and they need more water than other types of animals," he said. "A single watusi (a large breed of cattle) uses 40 to 50 gallons per day."

The preserve’s two bored, shallow wells are empty. There’s a deeper well that was drilled years ago, but Wathen said they never used it because it only yielded a flow of about 3 gallons per minute. Now, however, he wants to get the well hooked up.

"Even a trickle of water is better than nothing," he said.

Since North Georgia’s drought is expected to persist through 2008, Wathen knows he needs to seek a long-term solution.

"We’re probably going to have to drill a new well, but that costs $10,000 to $12,000, and we’re a nonprofit organization," he said.

Though the preserve gets some revenue from admission fees, it relies mostly on donations and is staffed by volunteers.

Gail Myers has been volunteering at the center for nine years. She’s spent the past two days contacting the media and anyone else she can think of, trying to get the word out that they need donations of both water and money.

"We’ve had a lot of calls, a lot of offers to help," she said. "One company offered to bring us a 6,500-gallon tanker full of water, but we don’t have anything that big here to store the water in."

Wathen said they’ve been purchasing some water drawn from local farm ponds, but they’re also relying on donations of purified drinking water.

"Our primates and birds need bottled water, because they’re more susceptible to disease," he said.

Unless he can find a permanent, reliable source of water, Wathen may not be able to keep all his animals on site.

"We may have to transfer animals to other places, such as zoos, probably in other states," he said. "We’d have to pay boarding fees for that. But we’re not going to let any animals die."

If you can help, call  Myers at 678-793-6633.



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