I took a trip last month to Tampa, Florida, to visit the Big Cat Rescue for a photography tour. What a great place! It’s located on 67 acres in the Citrus Park area. They began rescuing exotic cats in 1992 and it is home for approximately 90 big cats, many of whom are threatened, endangered or extinct now in the wild, including: Tigers, Lions, Leopards, Cougars, Bobcats, Lynx, Servals, Ocelots & Caracals.
They have large enclosures that are similar to what they might have in the wild, with a few extras - like toys, swimming areas, platforms to be up on, etc. The keepers NEVER touch or handle the animals in any way. That way, they remain wild and don't learn to depend on humans. They have "vacation" areas where they can go relax in an open area that's larger than their enclosure and are "transported" there via a series of tunnels placed from their enclosure to the vacation spot. They are guided through so they can get there safely and the keepers are also protected. Videos showing the process are on the website.
Mostly, their residents have been surrendered by owners who thought (or rather, didn’t use the comment sense they were born with) a big cat would make a great pet. Others were rescued from drug dealers who thought having a “guard cat” was a good idea. Some were removed from owners who forced them to perform, were retired from performing acts, were saved from being slaughtered to make fur coats, or rescued as babies after hunters killed their mothers.
They have onsite veterinary care and are keenly aware of the health restrictions and dietary needs of all the animals in their care. In the instance below, skin cancer was removed from this rare white Serval's nose. Their food intake is tracked meticulously…even if it happens to be an unfortunate turtle who wanders too close to a cougar’s cage.
All that said, they are a 501c3 and run 100% on private donations. ALL of the money donated or spent in their gift shop goes directly back to the animals. It is accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries and is certified by Independent Charities of America as a “best in America” charity. They are also a member of the World Society for Protection of Animals. In addition, it is rated four stars by Charity Navigator (their highest rating) and has one of the highest scores of any animal based charity. They are also part of a global coalition including HSUS, IFAW, WWF, GFAS, Born Free and other animal protection groups who are working together to end big cat abuse. It's called the Big Cat Act. Please click on this link (Big Cat Act) and be part of ending this cycle of abuse.
Some of these majestic cats have been "thrown away" because they're perceived as not being pure as in this example. The only crime this white tiger committed was being born with cream colored fur (instead of pure white) and brown stripes (rather than black) so she was not considered a "pure" white tiger. And the image above indicates how she feels about it.
I was also made aware that there are NO regulations in place via the USDA regarding having big cats as personal pets, guard cats, or anything like that at all. The cage below is the only "regulation" in place. The tiger (or whatever big cat) only has to be able to stand, turn around and lay down. That's it...seriously. Shame on us and whoever's brainchild this cage was!
Big Cat Rescue does ask that you support their efforts to get HR3546 (Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act) passed if you’re so inclined. This is the most important piece of legislation to ever be introduced to protect lions, tigers and other exotic wild cats from being kept as pets and in miserable roadside zoos. It has more than 120 co-sponsors.
At the end of my tour, I could hardly speak because I was so choked up at the knowledge of the former lives of these beautiful, majestic animals. If you go, ask for Chelsea. She was a wonderful, compassionate guide and took her time so I could get the images I was hoping for. I also sponsored a big cat (a black leopard) which while it wasn't a huge thing, it made me feel like I was at least contributing to the care of the big cats. Go there. It’s so worth the trip. And the big cats will appreciate your support.
Until next time…Please also stop by and visit my fine art website at www.kathleenmessmer.com, my commercial website at www.kmphotographic.com, instagram.com/kmessmer53 for fun stuff, and kathleen-messmer.artistwebsites.com