Explore San Diego: Lions, Tigers and Bears

ALPINE, Calif. -- Heart of a lion, eye of a tiger and strength of a bear -- all powerful animals who experienced both the worst and best of humanity. They were once abused and unloved, then rescued from around the country and brought to a big cat and exotic animal sanctuary, where they will stay for life.

“We have 65 animals here, about 17 different species…all rescued, each with their own story,” said Bobbi Brink, founder of Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine.

Brink goes on every rescue mission with her team.

“We work all over the country," Brink said. "We work with first responders, state officials. We just get animals out of places they shouldn’t be. You’d be surprised some of the places we find them."

She loves all her children but a few hold a special place in her heart, like Conga the leopard.

“She came from Texas," Brink said. "She came from a breeder who, of course, was in trouble for a lot of animal abuse…She’s just special because she’s been here a long time with me and she came as a baby. My dog was in with her and raised her."

Nola, the white tiger, was also saved from an abusive breeder.

“A lot of people don’t know the only way to get a white tiger is to inbreed,” says Brink.

Nola is now thriving with her roommate Moka, the Bengal tiger cub rescued from a smuggler at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Another tiger, Maverick, was confiscated from a rap star. Brink fondly recalls how she decided on a name for the tiger.

“They called us on Easter Sunday," Brink said. "Of course, I was cooking and Mark was watching ‘Top Gun’ and we went up at about 2 in the morning and snuck him down because they didn’t want anyone to know."

Brink’s mission is simple: to care for animals, give them a safe and forever home and educate the public. She holds tours, lets people feed the animals, rents space for weddings and events and even has a fully equipped house near the lions for guests to stay overnight.

“Most people don’t know that the exotic animal trade is second to drugs and weapons in our country and human trafficking," Brink said. "They don’t know how bad a problem this really is."

And her No. 1 wish is for people to stop supporting cub petting.

“I know we all want to touch baby animals but there’s not one legitimate place in our country right now where you can hold and have your picture taken with a baby animal so please, please, please don’t do it," Brink said.

Spoken like a true mama bear looking out for her young.