MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Lions, tigers, and a bear and many more creatures both exotic and native call this sanctuary – The Everglades Outpost – their home. Martha Frassica-Rivera is the general manager and animal curator. She knows each resident and how they arrived at this forever home.

“There is Sabal, a Florida panther who came to us as an owner surrender with her brother. She is declawed so she cannot be released into the wild,” said Frassica-Rivera.

Since 1992 Everglades Outpost, located in Southwest Miami-Dade, has taken in all these animals that are no longer wanted, or have been confiscated by authorities. If they are not native and cannot be released to the wild, they live out their lives here.

There’s a zebra, a camel, and two tigers. Feeding and training these animals isn’t a job for just anyone.

“We build relationships with the majority of our animals because if we have to medicate them, if we have to take them to the vet, check their weight, it’s easier if the animal is comfortable with us being around them, versus an animal that isn’t,” said Frassica-Rivera.

Giving them care and food is combined with enrichment or activity.

“It’s not just throwing food and water and making sure they get their medicines once a month, you have to make sure that their minds stay sharp, if not they would get bored,” said Frassica-Rivera.

An adorable lemur must be hand-fed every meal.

“Kenya is a common brown lemur and you’ll notice his tongue hangs out and the reason his tongue sticks out is his previous owner wanted all of his teeth removed so that he can’t bite,” said Frassica-Rivera.

He can’t live with any of his kind as they’ve rejected him, but he does have some cute roommates. There are two emotional support bunnies with him in his habitat as he’s a social animal and needs the company.

“There are a lot of reptiles, some of which are popular pets, like this huge lizard. He was found roaming a yard after hurricane Irma, the resident called and said it was an iguana. It is actually a black throat, and they can get up to six feet and can weigh up to 30 or 40 pounds easily.”

There are gators galore. This one alligator has a particularly sad history, her name is Saw.

“Her original owner kept her in an improper habitat resulting in her developing a metabolic bone disease because of that she cannot open her jaw more than two to three inches. She has a 30,000-gallon lagoon that she can dive into when she wants, she gets hand-fed three times a week to make sure she keeps her weight up. It is the best life that we can give her given her circumstance,” said Frassica-Rivera.

Martha’s love for these creatures and Everglades Outpost’s goal to educate the public has led to a very unique relationship with a reptile named Rex.

“This is our big 12 foot, 500 pound American crocodile, and he is trained, so we do training shows with him. We no longer do alligator wrestling or anything like that, we converted over to training and feeding shows,” said Frassica-Rivera.

Most of these creatures develop relationships with their caretaker, and in this surprising case, even allowing Martha to get up close and personal. She actual jumps in the pool and goes swimming with the alligators. Do not try this at home.

But the best part of the job is saying goodbye.

“The best feeling in the world is when you have an animal that came in, that you weren’t sure if you were going to bring back from the brink of death, and then being able to release them in a safe location,” she said.

Everglades Outpost is located at 35601 SW 192 Avenue in Homestead, FL (305) 247-8000.

Rudabeh Shahbazi

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