21Country: Black Pine Animal Sanctuary’s “Animal Art”

How a creative activity provides enrichment for residents, while raising money for the non-profit
Updated: Jun. 7, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ALBION, Ind. (WPTA21) - There’s a lot of work when it comes to caring for domestic and exotic animals at Black Pine Animal Sanctuary (BPAS): feeding, medical treatment, and enrichment. Senior Lead Keeper Kelsi Nicholson helps manage it all, making the 60+ species of animals, reptiles and birds feel at home. The refuge began in the late 1980′s, after a couple began taking in animals others could no longer care for, raising them on their small farm. The non-profit carries a high reputation, often offering a permanent residence to animals surrendered, abused, neglected, and seized. Part of the non-profit’s care plan includes stimulating activities, like ‘animal art’.

During ABC21′s visit, Pixie the Vietnamese potbelly pig was the first artist of the afternoon. Nicholson puts globs of non-toxic, animal-safe paint on a blank canvas, and lets Pixie’s snout and hooves do the rest. “She was purchased from a breeder and kept as a housekept,” she told us. “Her previous owners were moving into the Fort Wayne city limits, her owners could no longer have her, because pigs were considered livestock.” Since moving into BPAS, Nicholson tells us Pixie is in much better health, losing a significant amount of weight that categorized her as morbidly obese when she first arrived, two years ago.

Codi the Kudamundi, has lived at BPAS since 2016. Because there is no-contact, even with keepers among exotic animals — Nicholson sets up his painting area before allowing him to visit his outdoor enclosure. She sprayed a scent on the canvas, which drew Codi to begin working immediately. The activity is a welcome distraction for the mammal, who lost his mate Zoey earlier this year.

“He belonged to a couple who had children, and he became quite a handful in their house,” Nicholson explained. It’s another instance of families trying to domesticate wild animals — many of them end similarly, with desired ‘pets’ ended up at a place like Black Pine. “One other unfortunate aspect to keeping them in a house, is they can’t fully display all of those natural behaviors they would be able too,” she added. “When he was painting, he came out, he was able to utilize that sense of smell, and that nose. Digging around just having space and most importantly, companionship.”

We’re told animals may leave behind remnants — often which can make their creation more valuable. “Obviously, it’s totally dealers choice,” Nicholson said. “Often times people pick it up on their favorite animal, their favorite resident… sometimes you’ll find little nose prints, claw marks, paw prints, sometimes you’ll find fur.

“If they decide to mark it — we don’t sell those!” She laughed. With Codi’s piece of abstract art complete, it will be cleaned, packaged, and soon for sale in the BPAS gift shop. His photo will be attached to his work, and the proceeds will go to fund the non-profit. “They also have their own backstory, their own traumas and this really helps you make that personal connection that this is that really cool thing that this really amazing creature made.”

“We always want to make sure people get that personal touch while they’re here,” Nicholson continued, “and so they understand what they’re doing here, and why they should be here.”

Puff, the African spurred tortoise, was the last artist of the day. He too was acquired, but the reptiles are difficult to manage, as they require a lot of space, grow large, and live very long. “He is just shy of 100 pounds at only 22-years-old,” she shared. “So when they first hatch, they can fit right in the palm of your hand, and they never stop growing. So they definitely peak right around now, but they will constantly get a little bit bigger as they age, and they can live upwards of 80 years in captivity.”

Puff walked back and forth along the fence of his enclosure. So too when he would paint, he would stomp his footprint into the green, blue, and yellow paints Nicholson thought best matched his personality. An earthy brown is also added, during Puff’s muddy march.

On different days, other animals will paint. The animal sanctuary is home to lions, tigers, and bears. You’ll also find primates, an alligator, wolves, foxes, an emu, and dozens of other types of birds. They’re all cared for and fed, through the donations of members and supporters. If you’d like to buy some of Black Pine Animal Sanctuary’s ‘Animal Art’, you can visit their gift shop in Albion. They also accepts money, food, and/or supplies (check here to see if it meets requirements).

Copyright 2022 WPTA. All rights reserved.