25 Jul Exotic Cats at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, FL
Big Cat Rescue is an accredited sanctuary that advocates ending animal abuse and the captivity of wild animals. Facilities like this are always a plus in my book, so, when I found out that Big Cat Rescue was located just a short drive away in Tampa, I knew we had to plan a little road trip with a couple of our cat loving friends and stop by for a visit.
Since it’s opening in 1992, Big Cat Rescue has taken in exotic cats that have been abandoned, abused, orphaned, and even retired performing cats. Currently, there are around 100 cats living at the sanctuary; species such as lions, tigers, bobcats, servals, cougars and others now make this facility their home.
Tours of the facility are offered almost every day of the week, and there are several options to choose from. The tour options are regular day tours, feeding tours, kids tours, photo tours, keeper tours and private tours—each one offers a unique look into life at Big Cat Rescue. We opted for the basic day tour, which lasts around 1.5 hours and consists of a general tour of the sanctuary. The cost of the tour goes right back to the sanctuary to help pay for operational costs and food for the cats.
After arriving, Micah decided he wanted to put on his sneakers, but he didn’t have any socks—obviously, the only answer at that point was to buy some stylish cat socks. Pretty manly, huh?!
Our tour started out with an informational video and we were then escorted to the grounds where the cats were kept. We were given flashy red headsets so we would be able to clearly hear the stories from our guide.
The sanctuary spreads across 67 acres and it was fun to walk around and see how the property works. I found it very interesting that the keepers don’t enter the cages with the cats—they feed and take care of the cats from the outside reaching in with poles. Also, in order to let the cats live in peace, they never call at them to come close for visitors to see–instead, they bring tours to the cages where the cats are active.
Even though some of the cages look to be small, they twist and wind around and are larger than they initially appear. Also, the larger cats get a periodic “vacation” from their cages—there is a tunnel cage system set up to lead the cats to the wide open fields where they can have their chance at running around and relaxing in a more roomy area.
Each cat has a story, and we were able to hear the stories of the cats that we visited. They were so adorable and it was fun to get a close up view of many of them! We even got to hear one of the female lions roar—it was awesomely loud and exciting.
The middle of the grounds is home to a cat cemetery to honor all the cats that are no longer with us. It reminded me of the cat cemetery at the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, except his cats were of a much smaller variety!
In addition to the facts about the sanctuary, we also learned quite a bit about the problems that exotic cats face. One of the main reasons exotic cats end up abandoned is that people keep them as pets until the owners eventually realize they don’t actually make good pets. In order for the sanctuary to take in the cat, the owners have to sign a contract stating they will never have another exotic animal as a pet again and if they breach the contract they will have to pay a large fine. These contracts exist with hopes to stop exotic animal ownership one person at a time. Even though the sanctuary will take in as many cats as possible, they end up turning away a large percentage every day as they do not have enough capacity to support and care for all the cats that come their way. Some of the other issues and abuse that big cats face is living in settings that offer petting lion and tiger cubs, cat exhibitions, zoos, circuses, and being hunted for their meat or fur, just to name a few.
Since large cats need space to run around, many of the privately owned cats are living in a space that is way too small. The regulations for circus animal pens and cages are so tiny that the cats barely have room to even turn around. I now know what it’s like to be an animal on display at the zoo. That’s right–I was picked to stand awkwardly in the example cage while they talked about the various regulations and sizes. This is partially why I don’t remember much about the details of these regulations—stage fright at its finest.
Overall, the tour was a wonderful way to get a close up glimpse of exotic cats and a great learning experience as well. At the end of the tour, we were given information to speak up for big cats and help make a difference. You can call your state Congress representatives, write an email, send a letter, and more—all the information you need is right there at the facility. Each person that gets involved helps make a difference towards saving big cats. If you aren’t able to pay Big Cat Rescue a visit, but you still want to help, you can head on over to their website where you can make a donation, record a message for congress and read up about all the FAQ’s regarding the facility and abuse of big cats. But, if you have the chance to visit, we would highly recommend the tour—nothing beats getting close to the adorable cats all while helping save them at the same time!
Do you ever visit animal rescue facilities?