Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

For years, I’ve wanted to visit the non-profit Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. I guess I made a donation years ago, because they mailed their newsletter to me for about a decade now. It’s full of success stories of exotic cats rescued from abusive situations, as well as news of medical care given to the big cats and the passing of long-term rescue resident cats.

When I visited recently, I had no idea there would be a television show about BCR. Hopefully the Netflix show will make more people aware of the abuses of exotic animals including inappropriate cub petting practices. Currently, they are closed to the public due to the Covid-19 virus.

Tucked Away in Tampa

We scheduled a tour, drove to the site, and prepared ourselves for that happy/sad feeling of seeing animals formerly mistreated. Now they are well-kept and not drugged for photo shoots or forced to entertain people.

Waiting for Years

For years, I wanted to tour Big Cat Rescue. A couple times we were in Tampa, and just couldn’t coordinate schedules. Finally, we visited! So exciting to get to see where all the good work happens.

Before The Tour

Our tour began with a brief wait in the Big Cat Rescue gift shop. Here, cat lovers can find anything feline-related imaginable, from stuffed toys to opportunities to adopt a big cat. We learned that big cats eat a lot, and gift shop revenue helps support the sanctuary.

Big Cat Rescue has several informational displays in this area, and we took a peek at the web cams that showed some of the animals that we were about to go see. I saw them online in the past. Now it was fun to see them while only steps away from finally seeing the cats I’ve watched over the years.

Instructions and Briefing

Everyone gathered to hear a brief explanation of what Big Cat Rescue expected of visitors. No loud talking, no running, and definitely, definitely, no reaching over the barriers toward the enclosures.

We learned that we would see some cats that were newly-rescued, and we would need to be silent while passing their enclosures.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Tour Procedures

A lead guide walked ahead of us, and another guide followed last in our group to make sure we stayed together. Each group was small, 20 people or fewer.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Enormous Enclosures

Touring the facility, we were so pleased to see the enormous enclosures. The front areas of their habitats facing the walkways are small, while the rear portions are larger. This allows the cats to stroll to the front to gawk at visitors, or retreat to the rear and avoid humans entirely.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Plenty of trees and green cover are in each area. The cats have structures where they can recline above ground to survey their surroundings.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

We could tell the difference between older installations of “cat towers” and newer construction. Constant maintenance is evident.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Everything looks well-maintained and continually updated and improved.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Some of the cats have caves where they can retreat out of the daylight but still watch visitors. One even features an air-conditioned installation because its resident is a species native to northern, cooler climates.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Feeding Section

The areas where the cats are fed is small to allow that area to be closed off from the cats to protect the workers who feed the cats. The feeding areas open to the larger enclosures, and the cats come and go at will.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

On television recently, I saw someone try to use a camera angle of only that section of an enormous enclosure to give the appearance that the cats’ enclosures are small. Actually, they are very large.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Their Choice to Socialize

The cats sometimes chose to walk up and watch us, and other times sat back and observed us from afar.

Their colors and markings seem so bold, but actually serve to camouflage the big cats into their native habitat perfectly.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Tour Topics

The guide told us the history of each of the big cats during the tour. We learned when they came to Big Cat Rescue, their age, their circumstances, and details of any ailments due to their former abusive life. Every cat has a story. Some of the stories are very sad.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Out of all the big cats, they said only one arrived at Big Cat Rescue and seemed sad to be there. The cat formerly chained in a drug house and the big cats previously drugged and stuffed in small cages all adapted to life at Big Cat Rescue quite happily.

They told the story of one whose owner surrendered the cat once they realized they could not care for a wild animal in their home. Only that cat sulked a bit upon arrival. It made me wonder if cats remember the abuse, and are grateful to be rescued and retired.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Small Groups

The groups touring the sanctuary are all quite small. Sometimes we saw another group in the distance, across a pond or far away.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Everyone walked quietly and spoke quietly. Sometimes we heard one of the cats making a “chuffing” noise at their neighbor cat, or the sound of wind through the trees or the cattails rustling by the water.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

It’s such a peaceful place for these formerly neglected or abused big cats to live out their days.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Vacation Rotation

Many of the cats at Big Cat Rescue are on a “vacation rotation” where they move periodically to an enormous enclosure for a change of pace.

This is one of the areas where we tip-toed past without talking due to a newcomer cat needing time to adjust to the sound of visitors. Groups of no more than 20 guests walk through a couple times a day.

One new feline resident arrived a couple weeks before our visit and needed time to adjust. The presence of humans made this cat very nervous; probably because of abuse it endured in its former life.

It pleased me to see that everyone took this seriously and only whispered and walked quietly so that recovering animal could relax and get accustomed to new surroundings.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

There’s a long chute for the cats to reach the vacation rotation area when it’s their turn. This way they are not subjected to being loaded into a vehicle to make the transition.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Impressive Goals

The Big Cat Rescue commitment to assist in abolishing cub petting and roadside and mall shows featuring small cages impresses me. I’ve been to wildlife rescue facilities from Maine to South Africa. Over the years, I’ve seen everything from quality programs to questionable practices to downright abuse.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Big Cat Rescue and Retirement Sanctuary sends a magazine regularly, with news as well as information on how to donate to the cause of exotic cats. Over the years, I’ve followed the successful care of abused, abandoned, orphaned, retired, and surrendered big cats by this non-profit accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Sometimes Big Cat Rescue sends emails asking me to help with petitioning lawmakers to end the private possession and trade of exotic cats. Always, I do my part and write and call to protest and support legislation that can prevent animal abuse.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Inspiring Activism

Their work to try to end cub abuse inspired me to petition a cruise line about a cub petting photo stand at a busy cruise ship port.

The next time I went there, the drugged cubs and photo booth were gone. I don’t know if all my emails and calls made the difference, but I like to think they did.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Life In Captivity

Big Cat Rescue’s commitment to care for these rescued big cats is so impressive. Those Big Cats born in captivity cannot be released back into the wild because they lack essential survival skills.

Once someone breeds cubs for commercial uses, those cubs never can be released into the wild. They must be cared for forever. It’s sad to think someone chose to place these cats in captivity. The result is they can never again survive on their own.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Medical Facility On Site

In a sanctuary, rescued big cats live longer than they would born free in the wild where they are not protected from predators or medical issues.

Big Cat Rescue has a medical facility right on their sanctuary, and I’ve watched surgeries live. It’s wonderful to see how well the cats are cared for in their “retirement.”

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Enrichment for the Cats

When the BCR magazine arrives, I eagerly open it. Usually there are photos from the most recent holiday, when the big cats receive enrichment to stimulate their hunting skills. It makes me feel good for the cats to see the shots of them tearing open pumpkins at Halloween or watermelons on the Fourth of July.

We saw some “toys” the big cats play with; giant hard balls. The cats obviously enjoy them because they roughed them up thoroughly.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

They Swim!

While my own cats are not fond of a swim, some big cats are. Just look at this area with cypress trees leading right to the water. Can you spot the big cat? The difference between this life and being dragged around in a cage to businesses for publicity purposes are huge. This tiger is calm and living the best life possible.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Surrendered Rescues

We saw a few cats that people obtained as pets that did not work out well. One caused tens of thousands of dollar’s worth of destruction to their home. Some urinated all over the house, or clawed children.

While there, we learned that designer hybrid cats might be the product of dozens of breedings. Horrible to learn that non-saleable cats are discarded in order to accomplish acceptable specialty breeds. How sad.

Big Cat Times Magazine

The Big Cat Rescue newsletter includes news and photos of any recent surgeries performed. Also included are recent rescues, news of threats to the world of big cats like tiger farming in Lao.

Announcements of coordination with other countries in rescues and relocations are noted. Participation in conservation projects is outlined, and so much more. Even sad farewells to elderly cats are memorialized.

My favorite part is always the photos of the cats with their “enrichment” boxes that stimulate their natural hunt and conquer instincts.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Issues Facing Big Cats

The portion of the tour with the display of the size that is legal, according to the USDA, for a tiger enclosure made me very uncomfortable.

At Big Cat Rescue’s website, their section on “Issues” facing big cats is heartbreaking. It lists the different types of exploitations big cats suffer.

However, their news about rescues is always interesting – I like to read about the successful rescues of big cats who were destined to become trophies or killed for their fur. It’s sad to read about their former lives, but good that many people care and provide a place for these animals..

Hopefully people who take the tour, follow them online, receive their emails and publications will all pull together and help stop Big Cat Abuse of all kinds.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary
Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Don’t Forget To Bring:

Your Sunscreen! Reef-safe from  Stream2Sea because everything you put on your body ends up in our waterways. Here’s a 10% off discount code for you: “DeepWH” They produce reef-safe shampoo, conditioner, sting relief, hand sanitizer, lip balm, mask defog, aloe gel, and more.

Using my link won’t increase you price, and I might receive a small incentive for introducing you to reef-safe sunscreens and more. Discount can be used on anything but hand sanitizer, because that’s keeping the company afloat right now.

Updated May 1, 2020.

Big Cat Rescue, Big Cat Rescue // Tampa Florida // Exotic Animal Sanctuary

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