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LOS ANGELES – About a dozen lions, tigers, cougars and other big cats were returned Wednesday to a sanctuary north of Los Angeles, four days after they were evacuated in the teeth of an advancing wildfire.
Ten to 15 big cats, along with some hyenas and raccoons, returned to the Wildlife Waystation in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles from another animal facility, spokesman Jerry Brown said.
"They're all making their way home," he said.
One large cage holding an orange-and-black Bengal tiger was carefully taken off a truck by a crowd of staff members and rolled to a barred enclosure where the feline was finally released.
Martine Colette, the 74-year-old founder of the sanctuary, watched carefully as the cats returned.
"Every one of them is something in my life, and is special in my life," she added.
They were among some 300 wild and exotic animals ranging from snakes and parrots to bears that were taken from the shelter last weekend as authorities urged the staff to leave.
Volunteers heeded a call for help before dawn Saturday to provide trucks and trailers as a fast-moving fire crested ridgetops and roared toward the sanctuary, which had already begun moving some animals.
"We needed flat-bed trailers and we also put out a call for animal cages," Brown said.
The Los Angeles Zoo and an animal sanctuary in San Diego provided some of the cages.
"Animal people take care of animal people," Brown said.
All day, trucks streamed out of the rural shelter, carrying animals large and small to warehouses, along with fencing, food and medicine.
"We had very little warning and no time," Executive Director Susan Hartland said.
"The first animals that went out were the small animals that have difficulty with bad air, as in smoke and ash," Brown said. "The bigger animals, the big cats, the chimpanzees, they can handle the poor air quality better, their problem is fire, so they went out during the day."
Saturday night, fire officials determined the sanctuary was no longer in immediate danger and told staff members they could stop the evacuation.
The evacuated animals started returning on Tuesday and more will arrive in the next few days, Brown said.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County officials said owners have been reclaiming some of the hundreds of horses, goats, llamas, chickens and pigs that were removed from threatened ranches. About 200 animals remained in evacuation shelters Wednesday, officials said.