For my upcoming birthday I decided to give myself a tour of Big Cat Rescue. I’ve always wanted to see the sanctuary for myself, and so I did.
I have to say, it was not what I expected.
Oh, not the rescue itself. The 60 acres are well-maintained and give the resident cats places both sunny and shady to roam. The cats are moved about periodically to give them a different experience. Big Cat Rescue trucks in 500 lbs of meat per day to feed the cats. Interns and paid staff work to keep the enclosures clean, including daily scooping of big cat poop.
It’s just that I hadn’t thought through the reason this sanctuary exists. I was imagining healthy, happy cats, both big and not-so-big, living out their days in a lush, comfortable environment.
But this is a sanctuary for big cats who were abused and/or neglected. And so you see cats like the female tiger from Ohio who could not walk when removed from her owner by the State of Ohio. Today she still struggles with walking, but at least she is no longer the victim of other tigers’ aggression and lives in comfortable surroundings.
There is the white tiger who is the result of inbreeding. Her eyes are crossed. Their former owner’s plan was to breed her with a lion and have white ligers to sell. She continues to live with her lion companion but both have been spayed/neutered to prevent reproduction.
There is a 20+ year old tiger who struggles to walk and is on medication for his ailments. He spent a good deal of his life being kept in a cage not quite the size of a food cart. And that is absolutely legal, according to the USDA.
The saddest part of all is there being a need for a place such as Big Cat Rescue in the first place. Why on earth do we allow people to own big cats?
Big Cat Rescue rehabs some animals that were injured in the wild or babies whose mother was killed, then releases them back into the wild. These animals who remain at BCR could never be returned to the wild. They are too familiar with humans.
If you’re going to be in the Tampa area, it’s worth it to schedule a tour of Big Cat Rescue. I suggest you take the earliest tour available as big cats like to sleep away the hot summer days. You can tour BCR for free if you show proof of spay/neuter of your cat within the past year. But with their budget of over $2 million per year, if you can afford to give, please do.
There are plenty of other places where you can see big cats, but most of them are unscrupulous breeders who are using these majestic creatures for their own financial gain. Don’t support them in any way, shape or form!
And please, contact your elected officials and tell them to end the practice of legal exotic animal ownership. It should not be possible that there are more tigers in private hands than exist in the wild.
All photos on this post are mine and may not be used without my permission.