lions, tigers, and angels, oh my!
Turns out, as my luck would have it, the van was not ready. But human kindness would prevail- my unbelievably generous host in St. Petersburg allowed me to borrow the car for a day. I made my way back up to Tampa to visit a big cat sanctuary I had heard about. Now to be clear, I am an avid animal rights activist. I believe any-and-every being with a consciousness deserves equal rights and respect. Wild animals held in captivity is wrong. But this is not what these people are about. This is a sanctuary where should be wild cats that have been plucked from the wild or born into captivity can live out the rest of their days in peace.
The animals are rescued from zoos, tourist attractions, and even peoples’ backyards (it is legal to own a tiger on any size property in Texas and Florida… insane right?) where they are neglected, starved, beaten, and exploited for human vanity and entertainment. There were full grown tigers who people had the nerve to declaw, leopards left unattended in suburban neighborhoods, and even a poor lion who had his TAIL removed (cats use their tails to aid in balancing, walking, jumping, and climbing). The people and organizations could not afford to feed the animals nor provide the entertainment an animal of this nature requires.
The angels volunteers who run this sanctuary sweep these animals up and restore them to a life as close as possible to the ones they were to live. They even took precautionary measures for the future such as forcing those who drop big cats off to the sanctuary to sign contracts stating that they will never purchase a wild animal again, and if they are caught doing so they will be liable in full for the cost it takes to maintain the animal being dropped off. Keep in mind that for the majority of animals, just their feeding bill starts at about $35,000 a year. Then add in the land it requires to keep them satisfied and healthy, the supplies required for enrichment, veterinarian bills, and so forth.
The sanctuary handles these gentle giants wonderfully. They never touch the animals as this is not how it would be in the wild. All food and cleanup is done using long poles from outside of the cages. They have ‘staycation’ areas that the guests are rotated in and out of. These areas are acres long filled with giant climbing areas and other toys. The joy the cats get from being let loose in these areas is more than evident. Its bittersweet to know that most of the guests brought into the sanctuary are for the first time in their lives experiencing a plot of land big enough to allow them to run.
And bobcats are not the smallest of the felines they care for. They even have a kitty lounge where local animal shelters bring their kittens in to play. Anyone in town is allowed to come in and play with these babies. This not only gives the kitties the space they need to run and burn off their pent up energy, but it also adapts the kittens to being around other animals and people. This way, when people visit the shelters they don’t walk into a room of scared animals that may hiss and shy away- easily interpreted as aggression. Instead, they walk into a room of purring playful babies eager to meet them and find their forever home. The sanctuary hopes by providing this service their will be less feral cats (a seriously surprising problem in Florida), and less need for the public to want to purchase ligers and tigers.
Another feature they offer is the ability to watch the big (and little!) cats via webcam on a partner site promoting wildlife education and involvement. Login anytime to see what’s happening at the sanctuary. The best times are early morning when the kitties are brought in and the big cats come out for feeding!
After watching these beautiful creatures, take action! You can donate or purchase merchandise from the organization here….
Or you can make a difference without spending a dime by helping change the laws to ban backyard breeding and exploitation of big cats that belong in the wild. You can call or write to local legislation, or if you would like to take the more passive route you can sign your name to a pre-written letter put together by the organization itself. Check out your options here…
Interested in learning more about the organization? They are named Big Cat Rescue and are located in Citrus County in Florida. I highly recommend a visit!