I was recently invited to visit the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa Florida for a tour of their facility. I’d heard a lot about them and jumped at the opportunity to experience it for myself.
Susan, the head of Public Relations, was kind enough to show me around and give me a more in-depth view of the Sanctuary, what they do and the stories behind the beautiful cats they have on site.
According to their website Big Cat Rescue is one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world dedicated to abused and abandoned big cats. That isn’t an understatement either… 80+ lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and other species most of whom have been abandoned, abused, orphaned, saved from being turned into fur coats, or retired from performing acts.
If you’ve been following me a while you’ll know I’m very fussy about Sanctuaries, there are too many that claim to be one yet when you visit them you walk away feeling like you need a shower from all the money grabbing tactics. You know the type. That said I went with an open mind and this is what I found…
Big Cats Rescue is most definitely not one of the pretend sanctuaries. Right from the moment you enter you are surrounded by happy and smiling volunteers, interns and employees welcoming you with excitement in their eyes and energy that I wish I had! And it doesn’t stop there.
*Please note that some of the photos have had their cages removed during photo editing for aesthetic purposes..
As you enter the sanctuary itself, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the it, all the trees and the layout of the cages made it seem as if I’d walked into an urban jungle of sorts. Big Cats Rescue definitely doesn’t skimp on the cage sizes or on trying to keep the environment as close to what the cats by nature should have.
The sanctuary began way back in 1992, sits on 67+ acres of land on the outskirts of Tampa, Florida, with enclosures that are big and roomy with lots of space for the cats to play, snooze and play some more.
Each enclosure had a spot or “cat cave” if you will for the cats to hide out if they weren’t interested in dealing with gawking, aww-ing, humans. Tigers had their own pools, lions their own “sunning” roofs and the “little” cats elevated beds (not kidding).
The cats responded when ever one of the volunteers came near; talking away or rubbing the cage to say hi (That just shows that they love them and feel contentment rather than feel fear). Some were sleepy but only because they’d just stuffed their adorable faces with a delicious breakfast or played with the many enrichment toys they get such as balls and cardboard boxes. On the day of my visit though, their toys were in the form of pumpkins, some stuffed with chicken, in honor of the fall season.
Did I mention they actually have a whole acre of land dedicated as a Vacation zone for the big cats to take 2 week vacations every few months? I’m not kidding, they actually have 3 Vacation spots for the various cat species with each enclosure leading to the vacation spots they are designated.
Joseph the lion was lounging in the sun during my visit but you never know who you’re going to find chilling out with his/her bloodsickle.
The Cats and their Stories
I’m not going to give you spoilers and ruin the experience for you, the volunteers and staff can best tell you the stories of each beautiful cat. What I will tell you is that some of the stories you will hear are heart breaking.
What we humans can do to other mammals is astounding in its grotesque nature. A number of the cats were used as “Drug Protectors”, starved and abused. Others come from zoo’s and some from private homes where again lack of proper food and humane conditions led them to being rescued.
Hearing the stories of the big cats while looking at their content faces (some even with a smile like Andy above) you realize just what a difference a good sanctuary can make. Not only the sanctuary but you, the visitor, just by visiting you have done a little bit to help these magnificent creatures. And despite the horrors they have lived through they still smile in the sun, and you will come away with a smile too after experiencing them.
You ready to visit?
If you can’t visit but want to see more like millions of others around the world do, Big Cat Rescue has a live feed on their website so that you can watch the animals in action. It’s seriously fun but be warned you’ll probably lose track of time, the laundry won’t get done and dinner may be just a few crackers or a toasted sandwich. It’s that addictive! Yes, I talk from experience… lets leave it at that.
Not sold yet?
Their mission statement states “Big Cat Rescue’s mission is to provide the best home we can for the cats in our care, end abuse of big cats in captivityand prevent extinction of big cats in the wild.” If you’re like me you’ve probably visited a few places that state something similar along those same lines. I tend to be skeptical about such things as well but I have to say this place truly lives up to their mission statement, if anything, they surpass it through their continued rescue efforts of cats still kept in appalling conditions in captivity.
What sets Big Cat Rescue apart is that they aren’t just sitting back watching the cash roll in while taking care of the cats but rather they are actively working to end the abuse at its root by ending the private possession and trade in exotic cats through legislation and education.
For me this is a big deal and probably one of the truest indications that this is not a fly-by-night set up but a genuine cat loving place that isn’t afraid to stand up and be counted in the fight against animal abuse.
The highlight of a weekend
This visit was a big highlight of my weekend. I love visiting places that enrich your life and open your mind to the world at large, sure you can spend your day at the mall shopping for awesome clothes… or you could spend your day making the world a little better by visiting sanctuaries such as Big Cats Rescue where your entrance fee goes towards helping feed these beautiful creatures.
Mall vs Sanctuary. For me the Sanctuaries will always win. Sanctuaries and nature at large.
Photos from the day
All photos are available for purchase, portion of the proceeds will go to Big Cats Rescue.