Animal advocate Martine Colette, founder of the now-closed 160-acre Wildlife Waystation sanctuary in Angeles National Forest, has died at age 79.

Colette, who had been suffering from lung cancer, passed away Sunday in Lake Havisu, Arizona, according to her publicist.

She will be remembered for her efforts to rescue more than 77,000 creatures, representing more than 200 species, during the four decades she directed the Waystation before it closed in 2019. The sanctuary, which was also Colette’s primary residence, was established in 1976 and took in abandoned and abused animals from all over the world.

One of her final comments before she died, surrounded by friends, was “Soon, I’ll be walking with tigers,” her publicist said.

Born in France, Colette observed wildlife at a young age while traveling with her Belgian diplomat father in Africa, exploring the villages to learn from locals about their native wildlife and witnessing the horrors of trapping, hunting and exploitation of animals around the world.

In 1965, after moving to Hollywood and establishing a costume design business, she rescued her first animal. After creating the Waystation, she notably organized and led a caravan to aid in the rescue of 27 big, maltreated cats from the infamous Ligertown Game Farm in Idaho. And, in 1995, the sanctuary became the first to accept chimpanzees used in biomedical research.

She was the recipient of numerous accolades, including being named a Designated Animal Expert for the City of Los Angeles; earning a California Fish and Wildlife Certificate for 20 Years of Dedicated Service; and receiving the California State Assembly Certificate of Recognition for 22 Years of Tender Loving Care to the Animal World.

Carol Asvestas, a board member of the American Sanctuary Association, called Colette’s refuge “the mother of all sanctuaries,” frequented by Hollywood’s A-listers and school children on field trips alike.

The sanctuary had been battered by wildfires and severe flooding before its closure in August 2019, requiring the relocation of nearly 500 animals, including tigers, alligators and owls. There are still two hybrid wolf-dogs and 16 chimpanzees waiting to be rehoused with the support of California Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Donations to support the animals that remain at the Waystation are accepted at www.wildlifewaystation.org.

Plans are underway for a memorial for Colette in the spring, with details to be announced at a later date.

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