Mexico Sanctuary Conference

Mexico Sanctuary Conference

Mexico Agrees to Build Big Cat Sanctuary

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April 21, 2015 Mexico City, Mexico:  Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, Antonio Franyuti, Founder of Animal Heroes, and Lourdes Lopes, Federal Deputy for the Green Party PVEM, entered into a Declaration that we would work together find and build sanctuaries to care for the big cats who have been banned from being used in public exhibition. The contract was signed following a two hour presentation to the media and members of Mexico’s congress.

While it may have been our signatures on the formal decree, I knew it was the beautiful woman on my right, Vanessa Fernandez Thomas and her adoring husband, Omar Gallegos, who sat in crowd before us, who had been instrumental in bringing this day to fruition. After spending many months petitioning Congress, and creating and posting more than 200 enormous billboards across the country, that exposed the cruelty inherent in making wild animals perform, Vanessa had held Jeff Kremer and I spell bound during the tense moments of voting in 2014 that resulted in the passage of one of Mexico’s most forward thinking laws to protect wild animals. The new law made it illegal to use wild animals in circus acts or in any kind of performance. The law was set to become enforceable in July 2015.

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Those who have made money from abusing lions and tigers did everything they could to prevent this day. More than five hundred angry circus carnies had actually surrounded the building of Congress to try and prevent Mexico’s Congress from being able to go inside to vote for the bill. At the conference today, I learned from grassroots leader, Antonio Franyuti, that 80% of the citizens polled were in favor of the law, but the circus would use any means at their disposal to keep using animals for their own gain.

Video of the Presentation to the Press and Members of Congress

Sitting on the panel, before 6 television cameras and approximately 30 interested parties and reporters, I was introduced by Jesus Sesma Suarez, the Deputy of the Green Party in DF. I would learn later that he had been a voice for the animals from several years ago when he tried, unsuccessfully to outlaw bull fighting and then when he had succeeded in passing the first Mexican law to prohibit cruelty to domestic animals. When he presented the idea to Congress that using wild animals in circus and performing acts was being outlawed around the world and carried the voice of the masses to end it in Mexico, he was attacked by the circus owners.

He and his family had been threatened with death and had been exposed to circus owners hurling dead rats into his walled home. For the safety of his family, he moved them out of town, but he stood firm in his commitment to the animals and braved the abuse bestowed on him. After the bill became law, he and the Green Party, who had championed this bill through Congress had been the target of false reporting by the media, mostly from the U.K., who had seized upon the controversy, without giving any thought to the real plight of the animals.

What played out in the press were the circus owners both claiming how much they loved these animals and that they would kill the animals if they couldn’t profit from them. The news really showed the vile circus owners for the animal abusers they are, but the press continued to try and point the blame at the Mexican government for ending the abusive animal performances. The purpose of today’s press conference was to show that the public supports the law, the international community is prepared to help with the placement of the wild animals and the Green Party announced their commitment to build sanctuaries for the animals and to amend the law to prohibit the owners from killing their animals just to spite the authorities.

Also on the panel today was Carlos Puentes who is a Federal Senator of the Republic of Mexico and thought to be a favorite for the position of Governor in the next elections. Omar Gallegos and his wife Vanessa Fernandez Thomas own CPM Publicidad which is a printing company that creates thousands of billboards and bus wraps through Mexico for vendors as well known as Coke and for political candidates. Being so close to so many politicians, Omar revealed to me during one of our drives across town, in their armored car, that all he has to do is tell them to talk to his wife and she will persuade them to save the big cats.

Vanessa is no fan of politics, but she knows that this is the only way to stop the suffering of lions and tigers who have been whipped, chained and kept in tiny travel wagons for most of their lives. She is hoping that the new law will also extend to lion and tiger cubs who are forced to perform for tourists in the port areas of Mexico. Just like in the U.S. these cubs are snatched from their mothers when they are first born and then passed around for photo ops until they die from exhaustion. Surely the new law will see that they too are being forced to perform for their owners.

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Antonio Franyuti is another one who really doesn’t like to deal with the political side of animal welfare, but he was the vegan leader of Animal Naturalis, he realized that his small band of 34 animal advocates could have a huge impact on thousands of wild animals when they employed the power of their social influence. In a calculated and well thought out strategy, they contacted celebrities who had mentioned animals on their social sites and asked them to personally call members of Congress to ask for their support of what is commonly referred to as the Circus Ban, even though it extends far past just circus abuse. Some members of Animal Naturalis, including Aldo Munoz, did not want to be involved in politics, so Antonio decided to split off and create Animal Heroes. When he did, 30 of his 34 of his colleagues came with him.

I had dinner with Omar, Vanessa and Antonio the night before the conference and Antonio said he had been working with Pat Craig of Wild Animal Sanctuary to move 47 lions and tigers from a Mexican circus who was willing to give up their cats. (The current law cannot confiscate the animals just for being possessed by the circus; it just outlaws using them in performances.) Pat had hosted the SEMARNAT Director, who would be the equivalent of the Director of Wildlife in Mexico just last week, but the Director did not know about the circus’ pledge to Antonio that they would allow their animals to be rescued. This highlighted the lack of information being shared between the Mexican government, the circus owners (who are refusing to give an accurate accounting of their wild animals census) and those in the rescue community who are willing to help.

Part of today’s agreement included promises by the Mexican authorities to share information with the global rescue community in order to make the transition from lives of deprivation and abuse to sanctuaries as smooth as possible.

MexicoConf

Today’s outcome was far better than I could have expected because I came into the conference not knowing exactly what they wanted. All I knew was they wanted to hear how Big Cat Rescue does what it does and to keep it to about 20 minutes. Through photos and videos I gave the best advice I could about how Mexico could build its own sanctuary in such a way that the lives would be humane for the lions and tigers AND could be run on local and international volunteer help AND be self sustaining financially, if done right. Transparency and putting the needs of the animals first were the most critical aspects and not concepts that are usually considered synonymous with politicians.

A great honor was bestowed upon Omar today when Jesus and Carlos asked that he oversee the building of a new big cat sanctuary in Chiapas, Mexico. They know that he and Vanessa will see to it the funds are used to build large enclosures of 1500 square feet per cat, with a 2.5 acre vacation area to be shared with 20 cats who will be rotated through individually or in family groups. There are two other sites under consideration for the project, but Chiapas make the most sense, based on Panthera’s Jaguar project in the region and the potential for international visitors and volunteers who wish to experience the wild jungles of Mexico’s vast array of eco systems. Omar feels certain that after watching Jamie Veronica’s extensive video about how to build such enclosures and getting his hands on some of the materials and tools we use (that made it through customs) that he could build the first phase of such a facility in less than 3 months and that’s all the time we need.

The Congress decided today to extend the time for enforcing the ban until October, so that the sanctuary can be started and arrangements can be made in the global rescue community for placement of as many big cats as the circus owners are willing to hand over.

BooBoo_Tiger

Maybe the guardian angel for all of these abused wild animals was BuBu the white tiger.  Two years ago, before Vanessa and Omar knew anything about white tigers, or owning wild animals as pets, Omar presented Vanessa with the gift of a white tiger cub.  Mexico-Sanctuary-2015-04-21 13.03.41The blue eyed darling was named BuBu and became the great love of Vanessa’s life, but it wasn’t long before they figured out that having a tiger in the house is no fun for the cat or the people.

Vanessa searched everywhere for a suitable home for BuBu and finally found a place to board her where she would have plenty of room to run and where Vanessa and her family could continue to visit BuBu every day.  One very sad day, when BuBu was 7 months old, she was mauled by a jaguar in a cage sharing the wall where she was being held, and had to be euthanized.  Vanessa then began her great quest to end the private possession and abuse of these magnificent wild animals.  BuBu’s grave is in the garden of their home in Santa Fe and is a daily reminder that we have much work to do to end the abuse.

 

What is next for the Sanctuary in Mexico?

During my week in Mexico I had many discussions with Vanessa and Omar about the details of building a facility in phases.  Omar vigorously translated my feet and dollars into meters and pesos to calculate the cost of the first phase.  Vanessa wants the cats to have as much space as possible because she has seen the difference it makes in the cats’ happiness.  The Green Party has continued the discussions with Omar and Vanessa about the initial funding.  I don’t speak Spanish, so I don’t know how that part is going to work, but Omar assures me that funding will come and that this sanctuary will be built.

Big Cat Rescue has pledged to assist with the designing and engineering aspects to ensure the safety of the facility for the cats, the keepers, the visitors and the surrounding area.  I hope to make a trip to Chiapas soon to look at the land, which is an abandoned airport, and work with Omar and Vanessa on the layout of caging, support buildings, intern housing, etc.  I’d love to see the airport put back into operation for the limited purpose of the sanctuary, as the nearest airport is about 45 minutes away.  This might help encourage both visitors and interns, if the puddle jumper flight were cheap enough.

Big Cat Rescue will also help with the training of keepers and will promote the sanctuary to our volunteers and interns to help keep it staffed.  I am sure our vets will want to help with the injured lions and tigers who are rescued and in spaying and neutering to ensure that these are the last of their line to be born in cages.  Hopefully we can get a lot of frequent flier miles donated to cover the cost of assisting in country as well as what we can do from afar.  I’m told that Chiapas is the most beautiful and natural area in Mexico.  I know Jamie and Dr. Justin will want to also get involved with Panthera there in any way they can assist wild jaguars.

Antonio Franyuti and Adriana Buenrostro have been working against amazing odds to further laws that protect animals.  I was so impressed with what they have done so far, that I told them I would like to support their work.  They have promised to keep us updated.  They said their part of the campaign to end the use of wild animals in performances only cost them $3,000 because they rely heavily on friends to house and feed them as they travel Mexico and their work has been done mostly in the cloud on social sites.  Both have given up house and family to be Animal Heroes.

Antonio relayed that he had to hide his family, after circus owners threatened him and said he should leave them alone if he cared about his 3 year old son’s safety.  Adriana studied political science, but cannot earn money from her degree because she is too busy trying to build coalitions and change public opinion and policy.  They said they often have to decide which meal they will try to eat in a day, because there are very few opportunities to do so more than once.  Despite these difficulties, they both say they are happy because they know they are making a difference.

Antonio has been in contact with Kelly Donithan at IFAW and Pat Craig at Wild Animal Sanctuary.  He is reaching out to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries to see if there is capacity for housing big cats if there are more than can be placed in the new sanctuary, or some who are ready to go before the sanctuary is built.  I know that Pat Craig has offered to take a large number of lions and tigers but has been frustrated by the government’s lack of inertia.  Hopefully that will change now.

People ask if Big Cat Rescue will take cats from Mexico and we have some space, but I believe it will be much more cost effective to keep them in Chiapas.  Time will tell.

This video was recorded by Vanessa’s son, Javier Fernandez, and is in Spanish, except for the end where we were all discussing the great media coverage.

 

 

 

 

Volunteer Management

Volunteer Management

Volunteer Management

Big Cat Rescue had 89 volunteers at the end of 2014 who clocked in 40,547 man-power hours, in addition to 54 interns who clocked 32,400 man-power hours, plus 4,793 Volunteer Committee member hours. In total this amounted to 77,740 man-power hours provided roughly the equivalent workforce of 37 more full time staff.  Between paid staff, part time staff, contractors and volunteers we averaged the equivalent of 52 full time staff.

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Santuario mexicano de grandes felinos

Santuario mexicano de grandes felinos

Santuario Mexicano de Grandes Felinos

Nikita Tiger Has Fun With Cylinder

This section will be for gathering assets to be translated into Spanish for use in creating sanctuaries for big cats in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries.

Esta sección será para la recopilación de los activos para ser traducido al español para su uso en la creación de santuarios para grandes felinos en México y otros países de habla hispana. Algunos de los artículos son un poco anticuado, pero estoy vinculándolos aquí para actualizar y traducir.

 

What Happens to All the Circus Animals?

Banning the cruel use of wild animals in circus acts is happening all around the world.  At those bans begin to be enforced there is concern that the circuses will let the animals starve to death.  Governments and animal rescue groups are working together to provide humane solutions that will enable the animals to live out the rest of their lives in sanctuaries.  A well run sanctuary can provide the best possible animal care and can support itself, if careful planning goes into the creation and running of the refuge.

Big Cat Rescue has been around since 1992 but it didn’t get the fundraising part right until 2003.  Now we generate about half a million dollars over our expenses annually that we put into major improvements of the grounds and into an endowment fund to insure the long term care of our cats.  Some of the following are the tips we have learned to being financially successful.

Do it right.

 

If you do it right the first time, you save money and time.  Whether it is building the cages, or the infrastructure, or training the staff and volunteers, or doing the fundraising, it will always work out better in the end if you do it right from the beginning.  You only get one chance to to make a good impression.  Your reputation will be the most important factor in the success of the endeavor and it only takes one bad act to lose respect.

The very first thing that should be done is to neuter all of the males and implant females to prevent further adding to the number of lions and tigers in cages.  None of these privately held animals serve any conservation purpose and should never be bred for life in a cage.  In the case of Mexico’s ban on the use of wild animals in circus acts, it would immensely help limit the future costs if the government were to seize the animals in place, to neuter and implant them, before actual confiscation.  This would limit the sales of these animals into inappropriate situations and would help stop the cub handling industry.

 

Be transparent.

 

Finances-2009-2013

Even if you are doing everything right, you need to be transparent, so that your supporters know.  Some ways to be transparent are to be open to the public so they can see everything that happens.  Other ways are to share the animal care via photos and videos online or web cams.

Your finances should be just as open to the public.  People want to know where and how their donations or tax dollars are being spent and being open about it encourages more public support and limits corruption.  Having outside auditors come in, at least once a year to inspect finances and animal care, lets the public know they can trust you.

 

Build it right.

 

This video shows how we build our 2.5 acre vacation rotation enclosure, the feeding lockouts, bowl holders, guillotine doors, the safety entrances and our roofed cages.  We have a lot of species of wild cats, so most of our cages have roofs, but if you are only housing lions and tigers, you can build them with no roof using the instructions in the video below:

 

 

Big cats will be much more relaxed and easier to deal with if they have a lot of space.  We have found the MINIMUM amount of space for each cat should be about 1200 square feet (112 square meters).

 

 

Rotation

 

Cats are solitary and even though they may be forced to live in groups where they are currently, they will fight, steal food from each other and cause medical emergencies.  Unless the cats REALLY love each other, they should be housed separately.  Even if they do love each other, there must be a way to separate them at feeding time.

Shared walls are just asking for trouble because anything that fits through can get chewed off, like ears, tails and paws.  It is also an invitation to fight, so we never have shared walls.  We use 4 inch by 4 inch welded wire fence panels that are 5 feet tall and 15 feet long.  They are double galvanized to prevent rust.  Most of our sanctuary was built with single galvanized panels, which were cheaper but require painting every 6 years or so with Rustoleum.

Tigers and neutered / spayed lions don’t dig, so there is no reason to put a floor in the cage if it is at least 1200 square feet per cat.  They prefer the soft earth, grass and bushes to concrete or rocks; which can be debilitating for their joints.

Each cage should have a feeding lockout for each cat in the cage.  The feeding lockout only needs to be big enough for the cat to walk in and turn around and only slightly taller than the cat.  The feeding lockout should be attached to the cage with a guillotine door.  The guillotine door should be shut before feeding so the keeper can safely put the food in, then open the door. The guillotine doors should be shut when keepers are cleaning the lockout and water bowls so the cats can’t sneak up on them. Making this space small makes it easier for the vet to assess a cat, to administer shots and conditions the cat for easy transport.

A 1200 square foot cage costs us about $7500 to build (115019 pesos)

 

 

All of the lions and tigers should be tested for contagious diseases upon arrival and vaccinate.  They should be kept separate and not use the shared rotation area, for the first 30 days to insure there is no disease transmission.

 

Feed them well.

 

Feeding a good diet and being safe at feeding time is important.

 

 

We prefer to feed our cats an expensive prepared diet made in Colorado by Triple A Brand but most facilities feed the Wal-Mart Diet.  Wal-Mart offers sanctuaries their expired meats for free.  In the U.S. this is managed by Quest Recycling.    The down side of using this meat is that it is not a balanced diet and those who do use it report that about 80% of what they get is too bad to feed, so there is some cost in disposing of the bad meat and wrapping.

 

 

Feeding-Mexican-Presentation

 

Keep it clean.

 

Taking care of one lion or tiger is hard work, but when there are 100-300 of them, it is a job for a team of well trained individuals.  There is no reason to spend donor dollars nor tax dollars on salaries for keepers because people love working with big cats so much they will do it for free.  The only paid positions should be those that volunteers don’t like to do, like managing the volunteers, keeping the records, doing the fundraising, taking care of the website and social sites and outreach educational programs.

 

The key to making sure the lions and tigers get the very best care is training the volunteers how to do things right and be safe while doing it.  Big Cat Rescue has an annual budget of 2.7 million dollars and only 14 paid staff.  None of the paid staff do animal care work.  Even our vets donate their services.  We have about 100 large exotic cats and 88 volunteers and 12-22 interns at any given time.  They do all of the cleaning, feeding, medicating, and much of the grounds work and maintenance.  They also guide all of the tours.

We always have more applicants for our intern program than we have space.  If you can provide housing and food for interns, you can keep full time help on site at all times.  Our interns work 5-6 days a week and volunteers must donate at least 4 hours of time each week to stay in the program.

 

Engage the public.

 

When laying out the facility, consider public viewing as well, so that you have plenty of room for paths to get trucks to each enclosure, walkways for groups of 20 people at a time to walk, and at least 5 feet from the side walls of the cages to a 4 foot high barricade.  The barricade should not obstruct the visitor’s view, but should keep them from going over or under it to get too close to the lions and tigers.

We only allow guided tours of Big Cat Rescue, in groups of up to 20 at a time, but if you can completely cage in the public, like a cage wire tunnel, then you could allow people to roam at their own pace as long as you have sufficient security to keep them from harassing the animals or throwing anything in the cages that might be dangerous if eaten.

320Tigers

 

We offer high price specialty tours and find that we have to raise our prices for all of our tours every couple of years because we want to maintain the peace and tranquility of our sanctuary.  As of 2015 these are the prices we charge for our tours, and we use an outside agency to sell the tickets, answer all the questions callers have and make the reservations.  They send us an email 2 hours before each tour that tells us how many people are coming so that we have enough tour guides.

 

Tour-Prices

 

We are able to charge these kinds of prices because we are only 15 minutes from Tampa International Airport.  Acreage here costs $100,000 an acre (3,796,120 pesos) but it is because of our close proximity to the city and airport that we have so many visitors.  The videos below were from 6 years ago, but show you what a visitor sees on a feeding tour and a keeper tour.

 

Good walls make good neighbors.  The entire facility should be enclosed by a wall.  We prefer a wall that you cannot see through, so that there is less chance of someone shooting at the cats, but whatever it is made of, it should be sufficient to keep vandals and other wildlife out.

Natural shade is much better than man made shade, so if possible the cages should be built in areas with lots of trees or trees should be planted now.  They grow quickly and will provide much better cooling for the cats.  Lions and tigers are not good climbers, so if they are fed every day, they rarely have a reason to climb, but trees should be positioned in such a way that cats cannot use them to escape.  In some places that don’t have enough trees, road culverts can be buried in earth to create a cool place for the cats.

 

Keep good records and make sure your staff are informed.

Archivos

Archivos:  http://bigcatrescue.org/records/  Mantener un buen registro es importante para la buena salud de los animales. Utilizamos los sitios de Google creado con la plantilla de Santuario que hicimos al alcance de todos en la sección Temas más cuando se va a crear un sitio . Este tema tiene todas las herramientas de gestión de voluntarios y de formación que utilizamos , así como las formas y gráficos que utilizamos para alimentar a los gatos , reportando su comida dejó más o heces y observaciones acerca de su condición médica. Usted puede crear un sitio web gratuito con este tema para rastrear todo su cuidado de los animales y la capacitación del personal.  Debe tener una cuenta de Google para usarlo. https://sites.google.com/site/santuariomexicano/

 

 

Zeus

Zeus

Zeus

Male Siberian Lynx
DOB 5/1/97-4/14/16
Rescued 6/24/97

Zeus the Siberian Lynx at Big Cat RescueZeus was rescued from a fur farm.

He and Apollo, another fur farm survivor, share a large habitat. Although, you would not normally find two adult male Lynxes living together in the wild, in captivity this is actually a form of enrichment, if they have been raised together.

They play together, groom each other, stalk ducks together and even sleep curled up next to each other. They have a habit of puffing air out of their noses when agitated, especially at feeding time. This behavior has earned them the nickname of “The Hufflepuffs.”

Big Cat Rescue started in 1992 with the rescue of a single bobcat, named Windsong, which led to rescuing 56 bobcats and lynx the next year from a fur farm.  More than 100 exotic cats were rescued from being turned into fur coats under the agreement that Big Cat Rescue would pay top dollar for every cat if the fur farmers would stop breeding cats for their fur.

To our knowledge, there are no fur farms in the U.S. that still raise cats for fur.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Cat Rescue has already bought out every U.S. fur farm known to us and we would like to do the same with the Canadian ones. We determined, however, that in order to purchase the cats remaining at the known Canadian farm, and build barely adequate caging for them, it would have cost over $95,000. back in 1997.  Since then we have determined that we cannot rescue our way out of this problem and are devoting time and energy to changing laws to protect the animals.

Visit www.CatLaws.com to help.

 

Canned Hunts by Jessica Janson

Canned Hunts by Jessica Janson

Who doesn’t love baby animals?

White Serval Kitten

White Serval Kitten

Hands in the air if you don’t find baby animals to be the cutest darn things you have ever seen! Nobody? That’s not surprising. Most of us spend an amazing amount of time on the Internet watching videos or sharing pictures and articles on those tiny bundles of joy. Most of us are overjoyed when a zoo announces the birth of yet another healthy baby wild animal, especially the exotic cats! We are glued to the screen and happily share newly released videos of newborn cubs and kittens all over social media.

What if I told you for every healthy litter born, many healthy adults are labeled surplus and sold off in an effort to conserve space and cost? Now, what if I told you one of the many terrible places these animals could end up is in an industry referred to as canned hunts?

It’s very possible you have never heard of a canned hunt and perhaps it’s hard to imagine how our beloved zoo animals, each with a name and often a fan following, ending up being hunted at all. A canned hunt is, for many, a sport in which they can pay thousands of dollars to hunt within a fenced in space, assuring a kill and, in the end, a trophy and bragging rights. Most often these animals have been reared by humans so that when a hunter approaches, they are in no way terrified for their lives, the way an animal born in the wild would be. The loving trust that was developed between a captive wild animal and its caregivers is twisted into a gruesome mechanism of its death. Because the animals have relied on their human caretakers all of their lives, they often excitedly greet the hunters who have paid for the right to kill them.

Warning:  Graphic Content!


It’s estimated that the canned lion hunting industry brought in nearly 70 million dollars in South African alone, just last year. On average 60% of all the lions slaughtered in Africa each year come back to America as skins and trophies. And those are just the statistics for one type of big cat in one area of the world. Considering how many ‘trophy animal’ species there are, the accompanying numbers would be staggering, if you could find them. But statistics on canned hunting are difficult to come by.

It’s an industry that thrives on ignorance, and remains largely hidden from the public eye. It’s easy to pass off canned hunting as a problem that occurs only in third world countries, but sadly it also happens in many, many states throughout America.

Perhaps, not too far from your own home town.

I was fortunate enough to share correspondence with a former under cover agent with the Humane Society of the United States. Mike Winikoff , devoted most of his undercover work to canned hunt investigations. He was kind enough to answer the following questions for me in an effort to educate the public about this nefarious industry.

◦What animals are at risk?

That varies widely from state to state. When I did my research, there were some states including Texas and Missouri where you could hunt pretty much any species you want, including in some places endangered species, whereas others would limit it to only exotic (non-native) species, and still others would limit it to only native species. Limitations in some states were almost always based on disease control concerns rather than any sort of ethical or animal protection concerns.

◦ What’s the average age of these animals?

The ones who come straight from zoos tend to be very elderly – i.e. of no “economic use” to either the zoo itself or any sideshows (i.e. circuses, roadside zoos, game farms). But there is also a supply of the progeny of zoo animals from breeding farms, often via auctions, and those animals can be of any age.

◦ Why do zoos keep breeding animals if they don’t have room for them? Do they do it on purpose to make money? 

There’s no draw for the gate like babies. Note all the news stories whenever a cute baby is born at any zoo. It vastly increases attendance and often related marketing (i.e. things like stuffed animals depicting the baby.) A baby equals free, positive media and advertising. Few people think about what happens to the older animals who need to be moved out to make room for the babies.

◦ Zoos actively hide their associations with canned-hunting companies, how? Shell companies? Secondary brokers? 

When I did my work on this, they did it by not selling directly to known “bad guys” or hunting ranches. They sell to a dealer or breeding ranch, and those places would then sell the animals either directly to hunting ranches or at auctions. The auction system allows animals to pass through several hands, several layers of “legitimate” dealers before they end up at the hunting ranch. A few really stupid (or redneck-led) zoos did sell directly to hunting ranches, but that became much less after we generated media on it. The San Antonio Zoo was always (back then) the most brazen, as they had owners of hunting ranches sitting on the board of the zoo, who would buy animals straight from the very zoo where they sat on the board.

◦ Is it there any zoo that has not ever participated in selling to canned-hunt agencies, or to a secondary party known to supply canned-hunt agencies? Are there any examples of the ideal zoo who plan for the long term, not the next year?

You’re basically asking if there are zoos who accept that they have a cradle-to-grave responsibility for all animals in their care, and their progeny. When I was working on this, The Detroit Zoo led by a guy named Ron Kagan were the leaders on this. I don’t know where they are on this today, and also I think Kagan is now at a different zoo, which is probably continuing his progressive policy. Other than Detroit, the best I could find back then was some zoos who were sincere about not letting their animals go DIRECTLY to hunting ranches, but with much lesser conviction about making sure they don’t end up at a hunt after passing through several other hands. And, again, the much bigger problem was the progeny – many zoos would sell their “surplus” to ranches where they would probably live safely while providing many offspring who would get sold to hunts.

◦ How can I find out if a zoo I enjoy takes part in selling to canned-hunting establishments?

Zoos are bad for many reasons, only one of which is canned hunts. I’d try to talk someone out of supporting zoos regardless of their connection to canned hunts. But the way to learn would be freedom of information act requests, or speaking with a local group that has already done FOIA requests, both state and federal.

◦ There are many ‘game preserves’ and ‘hunting preserves’ listed within our country that claim to provide a ‘real hunting experience’ and breed their own animals. Are these actually preserves? Or is that a cover for canned-hunting establishments?

If there is any fence at all, it is a canned hunt. It is just as easy to corner an animal against a fence in a 2000-acre enclosure as in a 5-acre enclosure. Additionally, even if there is no fence, if a captive animal is released in a situation where there is no real chance of escape even though there may not be fences, that is a canned hunt. An example would be where an animal is released from a transport cage in an area where he/she is already surrounded by hunters or dogs as soon as released. One way to gauge how much of a canned hunt it is is whether they guarantee a kill.

◦ When did canned-hunting first become popular? And is it a growing industry, or just holding steady? 

In the US, early 1970s, following an enormous breeding boom in zoos and the inability of zoos to place all the animals bred.

◦ What is the most important thing for the public to know and do to help stop the practice of canned-hunting?

Lobby state and federal legislators for anti-canned hunting legislation.

◦ Who can the public contact if they suspect a center in their area of supplying canned-hunting establishments with animals?

Either HSUS or PETA, usually, unless they live somewhere with a very active (and intelligent) local Animal Rescue group.

It is shocking to know that every click and share of a newly born zoo baby might help to promote the death of an existing adult animal who has been raised to depend on humans for their care. It is a sickening thought, that animals who look into our eyes and the eyes of our children today, could one day in the future look into the eyes of a ruthless killer who paid money for the chance to exploit their trust and kill them. Last year’s precious zoo babies and Internet sensations face an uncertain end as animal parks and zoos struggle to make room for the next babies to arrive. Animals raised to expect compassion and care from the humans around them will, instead, receive a death sentence.

Public awareness is the first step in assuring that exotic animals are not simply bred to create eye-catching babies. If we understand that the babies we so enjoy visiting might not get to live long and happy lives, we can ask zoos and other animal parks to stop breeding them. Everyone loves a baby, but we must love the adult animals they will become, as well, and demand that they be cared for responsibly, instead of sold to proprietors of canned hunts.

JessicaJamesJansonLegislativeA baby animal is a lifelong responsibility, whether it’s wild or domestic. We don’t buy kittens and puppies, only to give them away or sell them when they grow up, and we shouldn’t do that to captive wild animals either.

If you would like to learn more about Mike’s experience undercover within the canned hunts he has written some incredibly eye opening exposes. Please visit his website www.mikewinikoff.com

Interview by: Jessica Janson

What is a day like at Big Cat Rescue?

What is a day like at Big Cat Rescue?

Vet-Tobi-Cougar-2014-11-22-19.15.02

What is a day like at Big Cat Rescue?

Some things happen EVERY day, some things happen a few times a week, some things happen once a month and some things happen once a year.  The problem with all of this structured order is that EVERY day there is some chaos introduced, so it is always a balancing act to take care of both the critically important, and the things that have to get done every day.

To Set the Stage

There are 80+ exotic cats on 67 acres and about 80-100 volunteers and staff to care for them.  Some cats have more than one cage, or Cat-a-Tat, as we call them, so there are 110 cages and most are the size of a person’s home, up to half acre – 2.5 acres in size.

Every Day

70 of our cats are already past 15 years old, which is very old for these cats.  (In human terms, it’s like being over 100) Right now, 30 of our cats are over the age of 20, which is practically unheard of elsewhere.  Because we are dealing with so many old age issues we have a LOT of cats who get medications twice a day, EVERY day.  If you have ever tried to pill a cat, you can appreciate the lengths our Keepers have to go through to get a cat to take their meds.

Our cats eat every day.  Most zoos fast several days a week, but our cats are old and no one likes to go hungry, so 7 days a week the cats are fed by a cadre of volunteers.  The food is taken from the freezers to the cooler a day or two in advance to thaw, and then each day special diets have to be made up for a huge number of our cats, because of medical issues they have, and all of the cats are fed.  We feed whole prey rats and rabbits two days a week, which arrive frozen, and the rest of the week it is a combination of a ground beef diet, that has their vitamins and minerals pre mixed in, and chicken and beef chunks.

This is the happiest time of the day for the cats.  A couple hours before feeding they all start pacing around and calling out to the Keepers when they hear the wagons hauling the buckets, full of food, coming down the path.  Keepers shut the most dangerous cats out of the feeding lockouts before feeding time, so they can safely drop the food in on the platters.  Then the cats are let in to feast!

Interns-2014-09-07 15.49.17All the buckets and utensils have to be washed, floors in food prep mopped and food set out for the next day to thaw.

Another thing that gets done every single day is the Cat-a-Tats all get cleaned.  That’s like cleaning 110 homes a day where the inhabitants poop all over the place and try to hide it.

Each Cat-a-Tat has one to three bowls for water and a platter for food.  Every single day the water is dumped out, the bowls are scrubbed and refilled, and the platters are sanitized and washed down.

If the cats dragged their food into the cage, the Keepers have to spot it and pull it out using long, L shaped scraper rakes to get the stuff to the side and tongs to pull it out through the side of the cage.

This is probably why no one comes to our barbecues.

A lot of things are going on while the cats are being fed and cleaned as well.  All Keepers are looking for changes in the cats’ condition, behavior, food left behind and what the cats’ scat looks like.  They are looking for cage and grounds maintenance issues as well.  As soon as they finish feeding and cleaning they log into the computers and record their observations.  Those observations immediately generate emails to the vet group for animal health issues, and to the maintenance people for the cage and grounds work.  The Operations Manger, the CEO and the President are copied on all of these observations in real time so we all know what is happening.

Medical Observations

Any of our volunteers or staff can subscribe to these alerts if they want to be informed and they all have access to our BigCat.me Intranet site where these issues are reported.  The Operations Manager then has to check off the Observation, once she has taken a look at the issue, so that everyone knows that someone in charge has double checked the situation.  All of the health related issues become a permanent part of each cat’s record.

Public Tours

We are closed to the public on Thursdays, but every other day of the week we have guided tours.  All tours are led by a tour guide, with a back up to keep everyone together.  They are done in groups of 22 or less, so everyone can hear as the guide shares the stories of the cats and what people can do to protect them in the wild and from captivity.

Weekdays

Work with kids at Big Cat CampWe have a tour every week day at 3 PM (except Thursdays)  We also often will have busloads of children from schools, scouts, summer camps, etc. and busloads of cruise ship guests.  We offer private tours throughout the day, as we have volunteers available to give them, so there are often small groups of people learning about the cats and their issues.

Weekends

We have the large guided tours three times each weekend day, as we have many more of our volunteers available on week ends than on week days.

Specialty Tours

We also have Feeding Tours, where guests watch the Keepers feed and learn about what cats eat in the wild and at Big  Cat Rescue.  We have Keeper Tours where guests learn how to make enrichment for the cats and then go with the Keepers to see it handed out.  Once a month we offer a Night Tour.  Sometimes we have really special, special tours; like this week a Keeper from Spain, where we are helping a sanctuary build a facility for rescued circus cats, is coming for a week, so she will be shadowing our people in every aspect of what we do.  Many of our private tours are for VIPs, large donors, other rescue groups, and those who pay extra for them.

Training the Volunteers

All of our animal care is done by volunteers.  We can do that because of the intense training our volunteers get.  Every day volunteers are taking classes, from other volunteers, and are getting their certifications.  A certification is a sign off they get from a coordinator (the person in charge that day) saying they are proficient at the task.  There are always at least 3 sign offs needed for each certification to be complete.  So the way training works is:

Caracal Photos Elijah&Rose1.     The volunteer takes the class by watching a video or being read to by another volunteer.

2.     They take and pass a test.

3.     They go out and watch someone do it right 3 times.

4.     They go out and do it, while being watched by a coordinator 3 times, to be sure they got it right.

5.     They are certified as competent for the task.

6.     Later in their career they can apply to be a teacher or coordinator to help train and lead others.

There are 30 or more of these classes they have to progress through, in a particular order for them to be able to proceed up the ranks of Red, to Yellow, to Green to Navy Blue.  We use shirt colors to show a person’s level of expertise and time spent with us.  Red is first 6 months and requires 4 hours a week, Yellow is next year and a half and requires 6 hours a week, Green is after 2 years and requires 8 hours a week. Keepers have to be Green to feed or clean the lions, tigers, or leopards.  Navy is after 4 years and requires 16 hours a week of volunteerism.

Our interns train 6 days a week, daylight to dark, so they fast track through these levels.  They live onsite and come from all around the world because this kind of training isn’t available any where else.

Training the Cats

Every day the Keepers do Operant Conditioning with the cats.  This is training the cats to do things we need for administering their vet care, by using positive rewards (meat on a stick) to get them to do things like, show us their paws, open their mouths, let us give shots or draw blood from their tails.  We never with hold food and never punish a cat in any way, so it is fun for them.

Cats are so smart that keeping them entertained is one of our toughest jobs.  Operant Conditioning is a great way to alleviate their boredom.  In addition to training the cats, the Keepers are constantly being trained and certified.

Enrichment

Enrichment is made on Wednesday nights by a dedicated group of volunteers who come to the sanctuary after work.  In order to have enough enrichment to hand out every day, it takes them hours to stock the freezers with blood cicles and tuna pops.  The volunteers make daily enrichment items that are small, easy to hand out and enough of them for 100 cats to get something new every day.

These creatives also manufacture, from all safe materials, some pretty spectacular mock ups of rhinos, giraffes, mice, Pinatas, Valentine’s day items, etc. Some just for the fun of it and others for filming for our holiday themed videos or for special occasions.  Watching the cats tear these toys apart is a lot of fun because the cats show such gusto for it.

The cats get other seasonal enrichment items such as pumpkins for Halloween, turkeys for Thanksgiving, Christmas trees, and watermelons in the summer.

 

The Stores Support the Cats

The Gift Shop is open every day but Thursday, so there is always a lot going on in there.  Our online and gift shop sales generate a lot of money for the cats so Partners (our non Keeper volunteers) are always busy fulfilling orders and shipping them, answering phone calls that range from: “Where are you located?” To “I have a lion I want to get rid of.”  Got two of those calls last week.

Whenever you’re talking retail, you have a lot of decisions to make as to what will sell, labeling, organizing the shelves and the storage areas, seasonal decorations, and the dreaded annual inventory, which is an event of epic proportions, including a buffet to help everyone get through it.

Partners are trained to be nice to guests, to be able to answer questions or find someone who can, to keep the Gift Shop looking spiffy, to manage the huge groups of people (sometimes a few hundred at a time) who are all piling into our store before their tour.  Our store is about 1000 square feet, so it’s crowded in there, but we don’t have room to expand it any further.  We play our videos, via our Roku channel on a T.V. in the store and one in the back yard waiting area, so guests can get a preview of what we do while they are waiting.  We are very strict about how people are to behave around the cats so we have a video they watch on our rules right before the tours.

We have had to raise our tour prices every few years because we have become too popular and can’t handle the crowds and still maintain the tranquility of a sanctuary.  We use a ticketing agency called Zerve to handle our tickets and scheduling, which has increased revenues considerably and it tells us an hour in advance how many people are coming.  We still have to scramble to find tour guides and back ups, and there is a considerable amount of cross scheduling, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, when you are dealing with about 30,000 guests each year.

Our tours have 3 different ways of being done.  Very small tours will be a guide just talking with the guests as they walk around the property spotting cats.  Large tours usually have the guide wearing a transmitter and the guests each wearing a receiver with a headset, so they can hear.  What they hear will either be the guide talking or we have an iPhone / Android app called Big Cat Rescue, where guides can play the stories of the cats.  We prefer this method as it insures the guest gets an accurate message.  Memorizing 100 cat stories has proven difficult for the best of tour guides.

At the end of the tour, people are asked to contact their lawmakers to ask for laws that ban the private possession of big cats, and to end the cub handling that causes all of the surplus big cats to be bred, used and discarded.  They are greeted by one of our Legislative Interns who helps them place the call or write the letter on the spot.

People tell us all the time how surprised they were to get a thank you from us.  We make it a habit to send a written thank you note to every donation over $25.  When you consider our income is close to two million dollars a year, that’s a LOT of thank you notes.

Interns prepare meat for 100 wild cats

It seems like there are a steady parade of trucks delivering piles of mail (that has to be sorted out to the right staff), supplies, water, soft drinks and the MEAT TRUCK.  When the meat truck arrives it is all hands on deck to quickly transfer thousands and thousands of pounds of cat food into the freezers.  We can store about 20,000 pounds of meat in our two freezers and the cats consume about 500 pounds a day.

Managing Volunteers

Big Cat Rescue keeps all of its fundraising and admin costs under 20%  (35% is considered the industry goal) by only paying staff to manage people and having all animal care done by volunteers.  Because of the way we manage the sanctuary and our finances we have one of the highest charity ratings given at Charity Navigator.  Even though we are closed to the public on Thursdays, we still have to manage volunteers 7 days a week.

That includes making sure they know they are appreciated by sending the birthday cards, anniversary (of joining Big Cat Rescue) cards, get well cards, condolence cards and showing our appreciation through recognition on our Intranet site.  It means making sure they have clean conditions to work in and an environment where we all adhere to a Code of Conduct that encourages respect.

Taking care of our staff and volunteers means making sure their equipment and software is working, up to date, virus free and a lot of trouble shooting with computers, routers, Vox boxes, Internet connections, the registers, Roku, a stack of iPads and iPhones, that are used for tours and caring for the cats.

Managing Interns

Intern Housing Tiger Tail Lodge at Big Cat Rescue

Intern Housing Tiger Tail Lodge at Big Cat Rescue

Every day there are intern issues to deal with from screening and interviewing new ones, arranging their flights, visas, airport pickup and trips out for groceries, if they don’t have cars, to training them, to doing house inspections to make sure they are caring for their foster kittens properly and keeping the houses clean.

Interns move on site for 3 months at a time and for many of them it is the first time they have ever been away from home.  We give a crash course in how to get along with others (up to four others in their house) and how to take care of themselves, domestic kittens and, of course, all of our big cats.

All volunteers and interns clock in and out on a Volgistics time clock.  We have to monitor that everyone is putting in sufficient hours for their color level and we reward those who are over achievers.  Every class and certification has to be documented in every volunteer’s file, and when they seek a promotion, all of their coordinators have to be consulted to vote on the promotion.

If there are any conflicts the Volunteer Committee sits down with both parties to hash it out in an environment that ensures privacy and a resolution that works for everyone.

Foster Kittens

2010BobbiNursingBobcatKittensSuncoastAnimalLeaguePhotoWe are a NO TOUCH facility!  Anyone caught touching an exotic cat is thrown off the property and never allowed back in.  As you can imagine, our people LOVE cats and really, really, really want to touch them so we partnered with the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and Fostering is Cool to help save kittens and their moms from being killed in county run shelters.

We take the moms with kittens, or the orphaned kittens who are too young to adopt, and bottle raise them until they reach 2 pounds.  They are then returned to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay to be altered and adopted.  Many kittens come to us so young they have to be bottle fed every 4 hours around the clock.  The interns keep the kittens in their houses at night, and bring them to the Kitten Cabana during the day, so they can continue their care.

When the kittens are weaned and get their shots, the other volunteers can play with them in the Kitten Cabana.  It’s great therapy for our cat loving crew and the kittens are so loving and trusting, after all the handling, that they are adopted right away.

We are a news distribution service for anything exotic cat related.  We have google alerts set for most species of wild cat and other terms such as zoos, sanctuary, etc. We curate the news daily via Spundge and then broadcast it out to the key word specific pages of our website and to our social sites.  We also comment on the most pertinent stories, to educate reporters and readers about the truth of the matter and give links, documents and statistics to back it up.  We are changing the conversation out there from, “Oh, how cute it is to pet a tiger cub!” to “Where is that cub’s mother and where will that cub go when it gets too big to pet next month?”

13milDisseminating our message; which is that big cats don’t belong in captivity, is done daily via our website which gets upwards of 2.5 million unique visitors a day, on our Facebook page that has more than one million fans and often has weeks where our reach has extended past 10 million people, our YouTube channel which has had more than 100 million views, and a plethora of other social sites like Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus and others.  We can’t just post our position and walk away.  We have to engage in two way conversations with hundreds of thousands of people in order to help them understand the big picture when it comes to cats in cages.

 

Managing Real Estate

The founder donated many real estate parcels to the sanctuary over the years to create an income stream for the cats that was not tied to tourism or donations.  This means there are daily issues of renting properties, evicting non paying squatters, marketing and selling homes, developing vacant lots and selling them, paying taxes, doing site inspections, dealing with county employees who drag their feet in permitting, trying to find new ways to keep tenants from stealing all of the appliances when they leave in the middle of the night, getting people to pay their mortgages, paying lawyers and grounds keeping on empty parcels.

 

So Far This Has Been the Daily Grind!

Weekly Tasks

Three times a week we are performing K-Laser therapy on several of our cats in an experiment to cure hot spots, lameness and arthritis.  So far the lameness in a bobcat, caused by a blood clot, has resolved, but we are still working on the others.  We hold a blood ‘cicle or tuna pop on a stick through the side of the cage so the cat comes up close enough for the laser.

Some things only happen once a week, like going to the big box store and stocking up on snacks for the volunteers, cutting the grass, and big projects like painting a cage, or landscaping.  Thursdays are usually set aside for doing big projects because we don’t have to break at 3 pm to do tours.

The vets are both volunteers and each of them comes out twice a week.  They have a list, from the Observation Charts, and go out to check on cats and make recommendations for their care.  They may decide to bring a cat into our onsite hospital, or to their clinic.  Last year we had nearly 90 vet procedures which was up from only 20 the year before.  As our cats continue to age, we expect those procedures to continue to escalate.

Laying out the medications for the cats is a weekly task for someone on our vet care team.  They have to count out all of the pills, delete them from our inventory, put them in bags, labeled for the right cat and the right instructions, and these are kept under lock an key.

About once a week we will be asked to host some sort of corporate, church, school or other team building event where non volunteers come for a day and do something for the cats.  Since we can’t let untrained people near the cats, these projects are usually grounds maintenance.

Once or twice a week we field calls from the press about some situation in the news.  Today it was all about the Tiger Temple bust, and Tony the truckstop tiger being in Discovery Magazine.  Yesterday is was a production crew pitching a story idea.  Last week it was because of the release of a new book about saving tigers.  These are excellent opportunities to reach far beyond our own fan base with our message. They suck up a lot of time, but it’s worth every minute.

Every week we are contacting and educating lawmakers, influencers and decision makers so they choose animal friendly options.  This is done via email, phone calls, in person visits and hand written cards and letters.

 

Monthly Tasks

About once a month, or every other month we are called on to rescue a cat.  If it is a native bobcat that has been hit by a car or injured by a hunter then there is usually a death defying chase involved and it always seems to end up in a lake or river.  There is then all of the emergency care for the bobcat and then weeks of rehab.

If the call is about a captive cat then we have to get the owner to contract with us to never own another exotic cat.  We won’t let people dump adult cats on us just so they can try out a new baby.  If they agree then we have to coordinate with their vet, or a vet in their area to issue a health certificate and we have to get an import permit from the Florida Wildlife Commission.  In most cases we have to go get the cat and that could be anywhere in the U.S.  The kind of people who have wild animals as pets are usually a crazy lot and dealing with them makes you want to pull your hair out.

They usually talk in manic circles as if they are on crack, they don’t return calls, they keep putting off the vet visit or the rescue, they give you false information, they don’t want you to tell anyone about what they did, they don’t show up the day you arrive to get their “pet” and they are just generally unreliable.

 

Keisha-Tiger-JnK-2014-1Sometimes it is a governmental seizure, so we can’t tell anyone where we are going or what we are doing until we have the cat safely in the vehicle and are heading back to Tampa.  In most cases either the agencies, or the owner won’t allow any filming, so the most exciting work we do, is usually not something we can show.  The shortened time for letting supporters know about the rescue is also a choke hold on donations.

The time leading up to and during a rescue is when people are most likely to donate.  Once the cat is safely within our gates, most are off to the next exciting rescue and don’t think about the fact that we have just made a lifetime commitment to caring for the cat we just rescued.  One tiger will cost us 10,000 a year for every year the cat lives with us.  Last year a tiger was 25 when he died, so in a case like that, if he were rescued at the age of 10, he would typically cost us 150,000 over his lifetime.

The cats are de-wormed and de-flea’d once a month.  It’s no easy task either because they don’t like the taste of the wormer and if you ever tried to put Advantage or Revolution on your own cat, you know they smell that coming a mile off and run under the bed.  Same here, but their beds are big concrete cave dens. We have to get more clever all the time.

Golf carts need battery maintenance and washing.  A/C filters have to be replaced.  Sheds are reorganized. The vehicles may need oil changes, washing, tires checked, etc.

People-Holleys-2014-09-14-15.41.01The Holleys are a couple of volunteers who come in a couple times a month to build platforms and “ADA” ramps for our old cats.

We send out a monthly newsletter called the AdvoCat to 82,000 people on our email list.  Each e-zine typically has 10 or more stories including updating our supporters on cats rescued, cats who are ailing, cats who have died, holiday goodies for them from our BigCatFun.com site, exciting news in the cat world, progress on legislation to ban the private possession of big cats, and 3-5 of the most shocking examples of exotic cat exploitation and a call to action for people to speak up for the cats.

We try to get out a weekly podcast, called the Cat Chat Show, where cat experts are interviewed online, but that has dropped back to about once a month lately.

 

Quarterly Tasks

The Big Cat Times is a printed newsletter that we write, publish and distribute quarterly.  We try to reach as many people as possible via email, but some of our audience still prefer the printed version.  This has the top stories from the AdvoCat newsletters and breaking news, along with a couple of pages of mail order gifts that support the cats.

We host Volunteer Appreciation parties that can range from having a cat expert come and speak to the volunteers, to staff dunk tanks and lawn games at a pot luck lunch, to taking them out to see a big cat presentation at the theater, to costume parties, jewelry making parties, karaoke and anything else we can think of, to show these wonderful people who donate so much of their time, how much we love them.

About once a quarter we will have to put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being in close proximity to those who abuse big cats for profit and see us as one of the primary threats to their activities. It may be a stake holder meeting by the state’s wildlife department, or a town hall meeting, or a congressional meeting, where we have to go to make sure the only people the decision makers hear from are not just the industry, that profits from using the big cats as pets and props and for their parts.  The kind of people who breed tigers, rip the cubs away from their moms and then use them as pay to play money makers are a nasty bunch of people and will try to bully us out of the venue.  This has resulted in being physically attacked, vehicles damaged and having insults hurled at us for speaking up for the animals.

Annual Tasks

The cats have to be vaccinated.  Operant Conditioning helps a lot, but nobody likes getting stuck with a needle; much less with two.  The cats get the same vaccines as your domestic cats (but a killed virus) and a rabies shot.  We have 70 cats who are due for their boosters soon.

We became famous for a black tie event called The Fur Ball and won a number of awards for this gala that attracts up to 800 guests.  It took a year of preparation though and we stopped doing the Fur Ball 4 years ago to focus more intently on legislation to end the trade in wild cats.  Our supporters beg us, all the time, to do it again, so maybe next year.  What made the Fur Ball such a hot ticket was that it was all about having fun whereas most fundraisers are all about patting yourself on the back and thanking sponsors.

We attend Taking Action for Animals and have been the largest sponsor of the event for the past two conferences.  We often present at this event.  We attend Animal Sheltering Expo and other cat related conferences and workshops that are annual events.  We host an onsite event called the March for Lions, or something similar that will attract up to 500 guests.  We donate to conservation projects every year around the world.

VernonYatesWildlifeRescueRehabLargoFLAnnual events include our state and federal inspections.  The breeders, dealers and animal exploiters make a career out of filing false complaints, so we have to deal with such inspections a lot more frequently than annual because the bad guys include OSHA, the EPC and many other government agencies on their speed dial list of ways to harass us.

These agencies have been forced to come out here on bogus complaints so many times that they are usually embarrassed to do so, and the complaints never amount to anything.

We have to renew licenses, permits, Combined Federal Campaign applications, solicitation permits in all of the states, and contracts for printing and distribution of our brochures.

 

Emergencies

Emergencies are pretty frequent, given the age of our cats and the number of things that can go wrong. Some of our cats are prone to seizures, and there isn’t much you can do for a big cat who is having a seizure, but it usually means someone stays with the cat and the vet is called if they don’t recover right away.  To us it is an emergency if a cat doesn’t eat for two or three days in a row.  Cats hide their illnesses well because in the wild, it is survival of the fittest.

If a cat stops eating then we either hand feed the cat so we know exactly what is going in and what is coming out, or we may have to move them inside the Cat Hospital to monitor that.  That is especially true if the cat is weak, unresponsive to their environment, or it is cold or rainy.  The vets will be alerted and the first one with an opening in their schedule will see the cat, either on site or at their own clinics.  This all sounds pretty easy, but getting a sick cat into a transport cage is no easy matter.

It usually takes 4-6 people and we start the easy way and work our way up to the hard way as methods fail.  We always try to get the cat to load themselves.  This would be to shut the cat in half of their cage and put a transport in the other side of the cage, covered with a blanket to be a nice dark spot, at the guillotine door.  We open the guillotine door and try to surround the side of the cage the cat is in, so they will want to walk away from us into the box.  If that doesn’t work, we try to lure them into their feeding lockout, but that’s hard to do if they aren’t eating well to begin with.  If we can lock them in that area, then we move the transport box up to that guillotine door and try to shoo the cat over.

If that doesn’t work and the cat is smaller than a cougar, we may have to suit up with boots, gloves and nets and go catch the cat.  The cat is then shifted from the net to the transport box.  If that isn’t an option, because the cat is a cougar or bigger, or because the cat is too aggressive and dangerous, then we have to resort to darting the cat.  That is always a last ditch effort because sedation is very hard on the cats and if they are sick, doubly so.  Any time a cat is sedated there are hours of sitting with them to make sure they wake up.

Thankfully, except for medical emergencies, most of the day to day emergencies are relatively minor, like a hose bib busts and there’s water spraying everywhere until we shut down the well pumps.  Then there’s no water for cleaning cages, toilets, etc. while we scurry to replace the pipes and fixtures.  A cat catches a possum and we have to rescue the “sleeping” critter.  The front end loader breaks down and we put it back together with bailing wire and duct tape.  A rabid raccoon starts threatening the cats and has to be caught and sent for testing.  (that’s happened twice) A tree falls down, or is about to, and we have to become lumber jacks. The road washes out from heavy rains and we have to have tons of rock delivered and then have to spread it over the quarter mile road that leads to our front gate.

 

Moving Forward

If we are known for anything, it is probably for being innovative in our approach.  We are always looking for a better way to do our work.  This includes major undertakings, such as building up an endowment to make sure we can always provide for the cats we have rescued.  It includes automating our tours, our training, our observations and management of the cats, using ZIMS for our medical records, installing solar panels to provide clean energy and just yesterday we took Big Cat Rescue completely off the grid by partnering with Arcadia Power to ensure that ALL of our energy comes from wind, solar and other totally earth friendly sources.  We use Melaleuca cleaning supplies because they are non toxic and do not test on animals.  We built a Vacation Rotation area that is 2.5 acres so that all of our big cats get two 2 week vacations in the area each year.

It is easy to fall into a rut of responding to one crisis after another and never taking the time to think about the future.  Instead we take a strategic approach to make sure the cats we have already rescued will have optimal care until they die of old age.  This business like approach enables us to do the things necessary to provide that care.  Our donors are kept abreast of everything we do and jump in to help.

Just recently a couple donated a much needed X-ray machine, which meant we had to build the new Windsong Memorial Hospital to house it.  They helped with that and other donors, large and small, began chipping in to buy a surgery table, a dental wet table, autoclave, monitors and just about everything necessary to completely outfit the new hospital.  We built the Windsong Memorial Hospital with a viewing theater that has a glass floor, so our volunteers can learn from the medical procedures without being in the room.  We were able to take one generous donation of the machine and leverage it into creating a much needed facility that will mean no travel time for our cats to go to outside clinics and a much improved learning center for volunteers who are studying to be vets and vet techs.

Nik Tiger being Xrayed

We help other sanctuaries and rescue groups do the same by sharing our resources at workshops, conferences and one on one.  We are always looking for a way to do things better and make the world a better place for cats… and people.