1. Vine can get a bit repetitive. The same jokes, the same memes, the same people. So how about some TIGERS to liven things up?
This is where Derek Krahn comes in. He works at the Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE) in Bridgeport, Texas, and posts Vines of the more than 50 animals who live there, including snow leopards, mountain lions, African lions, tigers, black and spotted leopards, ring-tail lemurs, and a coati.
Krahn’s Vine account, BigCatDerek, has attracted more than 400,000 followers who can’t get enough of the majestic creatures he looks after.
2. There is quite a cast of characters at CARE. Luca the tiger is adorable. But he tells awful jokes.
Krahn is the centre’s operations director and has worked there as a volunteer since 2006 – his wife, Heidi, is the executive director – but in his day job he’s a meteorologist with the US Air Force.
3. There is Milo the leopard.
Krahn tells BuzzFeed that he started tweeting about the cats in 2009, and started Vining when the Vine app came out for Android in June 2013. For months he only had about 30 followers, but in November the Weekly Whiskers Vine account and a few other influential Viners started re-Vining his clips, and his account’s popularity has spiralled from there.
4. There’s Melita the singing tiger.
“Before I put stuff on social media I was privy to all these moments that were either really funny or scary and we were the only people who got to experience them,” Krahn says.
“The cats all know me and trust me. I can engage with them. It’s a weird thing – people come on tours and see the cats but get no response. It’s only after years and years with them that they have come to respect me.”
5. Tabula the lion.
CARE also carries out research on the animals (ethically, as Krahn points out) in partnership with universities. This year, researchers have been mapping the animals’ genomes.
6. And Cassie the squeaking cougar.
Krahn assures us that Cassie’s squeaks are genuine.
7. Krahn and Cassie inspired the #trynottosqueak meme on Vine, which features slightly smaller cats trying to make it through six seconds without squeaking.
8. Some of Krahn’s Vines make massive tigers look like domestic cats – just really big ones.
9. Krahn has some meaningful conversations with the cats.
10. But they do occasionally remind humans and each other that they have huge, frightening teeth.
11. If you were wondering what the big cats eat, well, they dine on dead livestock. Feeding them can get a bit messy.
12. And to everyone’s surprise, the centre recently welcomed three lion cubs into the world: Zuberi, Jelani, and Araali.
The father, Mwali, is only a year old and not considered mature enough to breed, but somehow he and a female, Noel, still managed it.
13. Here is the proud dad.
Lion fact: If males get neutered they stop producing as much testosterone and can lose their manes.
14. A perk of the job for Krahn, who lives at the centre with Heidi, is having the lions at home.
15. Such cuteness is unprecedented.
16. But Krahn is under no illusion that the big cats he deals with are not predators, and says he has a constant sense of the danger involved.
“You have to have that sense – if you don’t, you shouldn’t be working with these animals,” he says. “You have to realise that they are animals that act on instinct, with very strong emotions, and are capable of doing some terrible, terrible things. It’s just in their nature.
“There are people who see these animals as pets, but they are very, very misinformed. They want this relationship with a kindred spirit that just isn’t there.”
Even Mwali the lion, whom Krahn has known from birth, “absolutely could kill me. Some people have this idea that if you raise them from cubs they somehow magically stop being lions and tigers.”
17. As Krahn puts it, some animals like him more than others.
18. And it’s not all fun and games. Many of the animals that end up at CARE are in very bad state and need urgent medical help, while others just get old. Solano the tiger had to have an eye removed.
Many cats reach the centre having been owned by people who mistreated them or couldn’t handle living with a big cat – including, in some cases, drug dealers.
“We’ve had cats come in in really, really bad shape,” Krahn says. “So much so that we didn’t know if they were going to make it.
“I have Vined about cats that have died. I wouldn’t be able to cover it up – I’d have to say something.”
19. If you’re looking for something to cry at, here’s Krahn’s video of big cats that lived and died at CARE.
As one commenter says underneath, “I can literally feel my heart breaking into a million pieces.”