The Story of Unexpected Wildlife Refuge

Hope Sawyer Buyukmihci and Cavit Buyukmihci with Chopper
Hope and Cavit with Chopper

In 1961, Cavit Buyukmihci and Hope Sawyer Buyukmihci, with their three children, purchased an 85-acre tract in Buena Vista Township, located in the Pinelands, halfway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mostly wooded swampland, the purchase included a cabin and an old barn on an acre of cleared land, and a stream which beavers had dammed to create a large pond. The Buyukmihcis were distressed by the increase in land development, reducing the habitat available for wildlife in Southern New Jersey. Since childhood, Hope had enjoyed the delightful wonder of bluebirds nesting in the spring, and it was vital that she passed along her respect and love for nature to her family. The couple decided to dedicate their land to habitat preservation so that native wildlife and habitat could thrive.

Photo of beaver cutting poplar
Photo of beaver cutting poplar

The Buyukmihcis settled down to raise their children in a simple environment. They made trails throughout the property, erected bird houses and posted NO TRESPASSING signs. They named their haven Unexpected Wildlife Refuge after Unexpected Road, off which it is situated. Friends, photographers, clubs and school children visited the Refuge to learn about the environment of South Jersey. That was in 1961 when the word ecology was unknown to the general public. To support the Refuge, Cavit worked as a metallurgist while Hope observed and photographed wildlife within the Refuge and wrote about her experiences. She published three books and gave lectures in schools, clubs and churches. In 1970, after befriending a family of beavers, she founded The Beaver Defenders, an organization dedicated to beaver protection and education. Because the Refuge is involved in the protection of and education about all wildlife, The Beaver Defenders no longer exists as a distinct entity.

Cavit Buyukmihci with beaver
Cavit Buyukmihci
Hope Buyukmihci with beaver kit
Hope Sawyer Buyukmihci

Cavit Buyukmihci died on the 25th of July 1987, shortly after he had retired with the plan of spending more time protecting the Refuge and becoming more involved in the cause of animal rights. Hope continued to run the Refuge with the help of dedicated volunteers, supported entirely by private donations from visitors. She died on the 20th of June 2001. Although these two stalwart and dedicated people no longer are here, their legacy and message of compassion for all life, continue unabated. Stewardship of the Refuge remains in the capable hands of the Council of Trustees, committed to providing a home to all wildlife – animals and plants – native to the region.