Every once in a while, here at TheConstantRambler, we take a tour somewhere and leave that place a changed person. The most recent example of this was the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. We entered the Big Cat Rescue expecting to find something like a zoo; smallish pens, animals on display, and a focus on giving visitors a big bang for their buck. We left the Big Cat Rescue feeling like we had just left a monastery where we were intruding on the sanctuary created for these beautiful felines. The owners and staff have done an amazing job putting together a place where abused, abandoned, and injured big cats can recover and live out their lives in peace and relative solitude.
It all began with the search for a pet…
I have always wanted to visit the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. I love animals and I love people that try to do the right thing when it comes to an animal’s well-being. Big Cat Rescue’s founder, Carole Baskin, definitely falls into that category. Interestingly, she didn’t always fall on this side of the proverbial fence. The roots of Big Cat Rescue actually lie in an admittedly misguided plan to purchase a bobcat as a pet. While taking a trip from Florida to Minnesota to buy the pet bobcat, she realized that the seller wasn’t breeding the cats as pets. He was a furrier who would occasionally sell a few, then slaughter the rest for their furs. Seeing the conditions they were kept in, and knowing their fates, Carole and her husband took action and did the only thing they knew to do. They bought all 56 bobcats and made a deal with the furrier that he would no longer buy big cats to use as furs. Over the next several years, through many trials and learning experiences, Carole and her husband Don, came to realize big cats should never be kept as pets and the Big Cat Rescue was born.
…that became a lifelong mission.
Touring the Big Cat Rescue brings a visitor face to face with nearly 100 big cats of all different species and backgrounds. There are so many sad stories that you encounter while touring the facilities. It is very easy to get on board with their views when you hear some of the tales of these amazing kitties.
These two cats are Cameron (Male African Lion) & Zabu (Female White Tiger). They were recused from a roadside zoo in 2004. Their former owner kept them together with hopes of breeding them to get Liger cubs to sell. The Big Cat Rescue built a 3-acre “cat-a-tat” (that’s a cat habitat for the uninitiated) designed specifically for Cameron and Zabu. The Big Cat Rescue needed to have Cameron neutered so he could be reunited with his tiger friend. There was a strong possibility that he would lose his gorgeous, thick mane if neutered, so they chose for him to undergo a vasectomy instead and he remained separated from Zabu (who was spayed) until it was certain no breeding could take place. Now they are two of the most popular cats at the Big Cat Rescue. They are pretty much inseparable and can be seen snuggling in their new home.
Say hello to Desiree. She is an African Serval and was rescued in 2009. Desiree was found limping along the Arizona desert by the Tucson authorities. She was dehydrated and missing a rear leg. Someone just abandoned her on the highway and left her to die. Now she has a happy home at the Big Cat Rescue. She is walking and well-fed.
Meet Tonga. He is a white Serval. Tonga and his brother, Pharaoh are the only two known white servals in the world. Their white coats are the effects of inbreeding, this is not a natural occurence. Tonga was 15 years old when he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. After much testing, the Big Cat Rescue decided that he needed to have his nose removed so that he could live out the rest of his life in good health. The surgery was performed and Tonga is now cancer-free and happily basking in his habitat.
There are so many cats and so many incredible stories at the Big Cat Rescue and they can all be found here… Big Cat Stories
Education is key to victory…
The Big Cat Rescue has over 100 volunteers and interns. These people go through extensive training to learn how to work with these big cats. The Big Cat Rescue educates there staff and believe in ongoing training. The staff take online courses to keep themselves up-to-date and well-informed. Then the staff turns around and shares this education with the public. Global change for these cats can only change through engaging and educating the public.
…however, the need for Sanctuary will never change.
Carole and her team at Big Cat Rescue learned something quickly over the years. For each big cat they could save and provide refuge for, there were hundreds of cats that were living terrible lives across the US. Because of this, they have begun and supported several initiatives to introduce legislation to prevent the ownership of various species of big cats. Doing so will help prevent this abuse and solve the problem at it’s root. If you want to help advocate and participate in moving this legislation through at the state and national level, go to www.BigCatBan.com for more information. It is critical that each of us does whatever we can to help support these beautiful creatures and prevent their abuse.
It takes over $10,000 to properly care for a tiger for a year. This is in a normal situation if the cat has no issues. After one visit to the sanctuary, I was smitten. These cats and the people that care for them have touched my heart and Kenin and I are willing to do everything in our power to help raise funds and awareness.
If you are interested in making a donation to Big Cat Rescue, please do so on their donations page, or you can find other ways to support Big Cat Rescue by getting involved. If you are planning a visit to the Big Cat Rescue you can also click through for a coupon here.
All of my favorite new friends couldn’t fit in this post, but I did include our best photos in the gallery below.