and it certainly is appropriate for a cougar who was born into the pet trade in 1995 in Texas, was shipped to New York and then traveled to a rescue center in South Florida before taking the last road trip, at the age of 18, to her forever home at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa.
This folder of images will be updated as they come in from the Big Cat Rescue team.
From a former volunteer:
Hello! Here is some basic information about Reise the cougar and the information I have gathered from my time at SFWRC.
Reise (pronounced rise-uh) is a Texan cougar who had been at South Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for 15 years. She is believed to be around 18-19 years of age. She was confiscated in New York from a drug dealer where she was kept in a small apartment having been fed domestic cat food and extremely undernourished with worms. Her illegal owner was only fined $500, which goes to show how under enforced big cat regulations can be.
She was brought to SFWRC where she began a long recovery after suffering years of abuse. Unfortunately, she was badly de-clawed as a cub by her original breeder. Reise had surgery to fix a lame front paw. The nail was growing back into the paw and trying to invade bone. Dr. Mormane, a veterinarian, generously donated his time to fix Reise’s foot for free.
Several toes had the same issue, but one of them was very bad. As Dr. Mornane began stitching, they discovered that there’s no padding left on Reise’s toe on her front right paw. That meant any more trimming and she’ll bone on bone.
Dr. Mormane ruled that from now on, her nails will have to be filed. Dr. Mornane had generously agreed to fly in every 3-4 months to take care of this himself. Reise’s paw has healed tremendously from what it once was. After the surgery (which, had Dr. Mormane not paid for himself, would have cost the sanctuary over $300), Reise’s demeanor immediately changed as she became more playful and active.
One of the most vocal cats at the sanctuary, Reise is capable of making a plethora of different noises to signal her different moods. One of my favorites is her signature “greeting” squeak that she repeatedly shows off throughout the day. She is very friendly and I discovered a few months ago that she likes frozen ice balls to swat around. I’d wanted to try bloodcicles with her, but I had no idea where to get blood, haha.
Reise is generally a very even tempered cat. For whatever reason, she prefers men over women. She also loves to roll around on her back when she’s in a playful mood, which is most of the time. You’ll notice she has very cute black dots on her nose and a very stocky, cougar-like frame. At SFWRC, she spent a lot of time up on her perch lounging around. She is very bright and attentive to her surroundings. If a bird flies too close to her enclosure, she’s sure to stalk it. To my knowledge, she’s never consumed a live animal.
I began volunteering at SFWRC almost exactly a year ago. Seeing as I lived about an hour north, I came down to help around once or twice a month. I enjoyed helping to clean the enclosures- hosing down poop and such (always from the outside, SFWRC was protected contact with touching allowed through the cage and only behind the animal’s face), feed the animals, change their water, get to know their individual personalities, and create enrichment ideas. Each animal reacted differently to different EEDs.
Watching them be curious and explore new “inventions” was probably my favorite aspect of helping out the cats. Exotic pet education was also a HUGE principle of the sanctuary. In May, two dedicated volunteers helped me organize a tour of SFWRC with fifteen kids from our school. We gave them a tour of the animals and educated them about the animal’s histories, what it takes to take care of a big cat (basically facts that would deter them from ever considering it), and most importantly, the exotic pet trade.
I always knew the enclosures could do much better, IE larger and more naturalistic with environmental enrichment devices. Dirk did, everybody did.
The message of the sanctuary was that big cats don’t belong in captivity, but if they have to be (due to irresponsible exotic pet owners), we would like to give them a safe home, free from abuse. Dirk’s goal was to relocate to somewhere more spacious, like northern Florida, and expand the cats’ enclosures.
Generally, the sanctuary flew under the public radar because it never advertised things like “Come play with the kitties!” because that was totally against the idea of the sanctuary. Because the sanctuary wasn’t a publicity stunt, it also meant it was constantly under financial siege. SFWRC relied solely on volunteers. All the credit goes to those volunteers who were there full time and always took care of the cats, they kept the sanctuary running for as long as it did.
From the time I volunteered there to the time it was closed, SFWRC housed one Siberian tiger, one African lion, one Java macaque, one Rhesus macaque, one serval/caracal mix, one Bengal tiger, two FL panthers, two cougars, and two leopards (although I believe that one of the leopards, Spotty, had to have some jaguar in him, due to his stocky appearance, wide face, and larger, darker rosettes with multiple dots in side them).
All of these cats/monkeys were older animals. Alex, the African lion, passed away in February from old age (he was nearly thirty, an incredible feat for a captive lion!). He was confiscated from an unfit owner in Berea, KY where he was saved from being euthanized. Benny, the Java macaque, also passed away from old age (at around 30 years).
Sinbad, the Siberian tiger, tragically passed away in March from a rattlesnake bite. Sinbad came from a private owner who could not take care of him. He was only six when he passed.
Nicky, a leopard, came from an alligator wrestling tourist attraction where she was carted around to children’s parties in a tiny crate on Hwy 41.
Spotty, the other leopard (or possible jaguar mix?) was confiscated from a Palm Beach dealer who used him as a “guard dog” for a construction site. He was constantly teased and poked with brooms, causing him to be extremely aggressive to this day. He is believed to be around 20 years of age.
As you already know, Jojo came from an illegal breeder who purposefully crossbred two distinct species before arriving at SFWRC, creating a medical mess.
Khrishna, the Bengal tiger, is around 6 years old. He was confiscated at 1.5 years of age from Parrot Jungle Island where he was leased to a movie production company.
Nola, a sweet cougar with feline distemper and cerebellar hypoplasia, was confiscated from a woman walking her on a leash at Miami Beach. When officers asked her for her license, she pulled out her driver’s license…
Anyway, I’m sorry this message has been so long, there is just so much to say for all these animals. As sad as it is to say goodbye to them, I am extremely excited, optimistic, and happy for all of them as they will enjoy the type of habitats and natural stimulation they deserve. I can’t wait for the day when I can visit BCR and the other facilities to see how the cats are doing.
Water bowl in Reise cougar’s cage at SFWRC the day of the rescue
In 2003 John Babb of Berea, Kentucky shipped an 8 week old serval kitten to a woman in Ohio, who named her Sheena. (The breeder’s website boasts that he is still selling serval kittens to pet owners in the U.S. for $6,000 and abroad for $9,000.)
Fast forward 11 years…
After Terry Thompson released 56 lions, tigers and bears in OH the state decided to ban the private possession of big cats, but grandfathered in the existing animals as long as the owners would build a safe cage, register the animal and provide insurance or a bond, in case their animal escaped and hurt someone.
Sheena’s owner was willing to register her, and apparently kept her in a dog run, but was unwilling to provide insurance. She decided instead to turn Sheena over to the state of OH.
To our knowledge she is the first exotic cat to be surrendered to the Ohio authorities. The ban became law in 2012 and the exotic pet exploiters predicted that hundreds or thousands of big cats would be dumped on the state, but that hasn’t happened.
People who really love their animals will do the minimal things asked of them by law to keep them. Sheena wasn’t that lucky…
Or maybe she was even luckier because when the state of OH called and asked if we would provide a permanent home for her we knew that YOU would help us do that. Please let Sheena know that she is loved and welcome at Big Cat Rescue by donating to her care.
Sheena Serval arrives at the airport.
Sheena Serval arrives with attitude intact. (Thanks for that observation Kiz)
She’s late so it is the middle of the night, but Big Cat Rescuers won’t leave until she is safely loaded and on her way to her forever home at Big Cat Rescue.
Since it is midnight, Sheena will spend the night in the Cat Hospital and be released as soon as it is daylight.
We weigh her in the carrier and then will weigh the carrier after her release into her new Cat-a-Tat to get a good weight on her.
Big Cat Rescuers, including the vet, are all happy to have Sheena Serval arrive. Photos by Jamie Veronica.
A woman in NY was battling cancer, her sister had run off leaving her with her three children ages 6-17 and her home was in foreclosure…. She also had five servals living in her basement!
She would never be able to rent an apartment to keep her five servals and was left no choice but to try and find them a new home. After careful consideration we decided that we were able to rescue the 5 servals and immediately went into action. All the servals currently at the sanctuary live alone which they prefer as they’re solitary by nature, so in order to house 5 servals in one enclosure we had to get creative. We joined two existing enclosures together which made one huge 3000 sq ft space that the servals could roam around in and enjoy.
On top of joining the enclosures together, we added platforms, den boxes, hideaway areas and we were told they had a waterfall as kittens and loved it, so we also added a pool! We received the import permits, loaded the van with carriers and equipment then started on the long drive to New York while others finished preparing the enclosure.
We arrived in Cohoes New York, just north of Albany to a typical residential neighborhood, the 5 servals had been kept in the basement of the house which had been converted into a living room and except for a few escapes over the years including an incident where one of the owners was bit and in hospital for a week, they’d never spent any time outside. There were 4 males, Santino, Doodles, Zoul and Zimba and 1 female Zouletta, all 5 had been declawed and were between the ages of 12 and 14 years.
All the servals except for Doodles are related and had been purchased from a pet store in Latham NY, Doodles was added to the serval pack at a later date and ironically belonged to a man in Florida who’s wife told him to choose between her and the cat!
It was a kind of a bizarre and an uneasy experience to walk into the basement area and see the 5 servals hanging out in front of the fire, by the TV and on top of the hot tub! It is hard to imagine that these cats spent much time out of their concrete floored cell because the furniture and hot tub cover were not chewed and these five love to chew! But most of all it was just sad to see these 5 wild cats in such cramped unnatural conditions. The owners obviously loved the cats and had planned on them being a part of their life, they’d constructed a caged area with a drain in the floor so they could clean more easily and shut them off into the area when they had company or weren’t in the house. The cats weren’t living in filthy conditions, it was obvious they’d been fed as they all looked overweight, the owners recounted stories of them playing on pool tables and with their air hockey game, but it didn’t change the fact that their ignorance had led to the cats living on concrete in these dungeon like settings for over a decade….
Of course life has lots of surprises and circumstances change and the owners are now unable to afford or house the servals any longer…
So the rescue began…
With the help of the owners we managed to get four of the five servals into the carriers quite easily, but Doodles wasn’t impressed with these strangers invading his territory and wouldn’t go into the carrier even after we tried using food to lure him in, so he had to be netted.
Sedating cats is always the last resort, certain cats can react badly to the drugs, so we never do this unless it’s absolutely necessary…
With all 5 servals safely loaded into the BCR van and the last tearful goodbyes said, we began our long drive back to Tampa, we drove straight through the night and over 20 hours later arrived back at the sanctuary!
More staff members were waiting to help unload the cats, we weighed all the servals on the way to their new enclosure, they weighed between 31 and 42lbs, ideally they should have weighed between 20 and 30lbs.
We lined the carriers up and prepared them so we could simply unlatch the doors when we were out of the enclosure. Santino, easily recognizable with his old injury of a broken ear was the first to emerge from the carriers and explore. One by one the other servals finally began to follow his lead and introduced themselves to the outside world and their new home.
The only way we can continue to rescue cats in need like Santino, Doodles, Zimba, Zoul and Zouletta is through your support. Stay tuned for future updates on all 6 servals and how they’re adapting to life at Big Cat Rescue. You can help us change the way people treat big cats by donating at the top right of the page.
These are a few of the photos from the rescue of five servals who had been kept in a NY basement for more than 12 years.
The cats, rescued in July 2015, were released to the Preserve on Thursday, February 4, 2016.
Venus Flatwoods Preserve is located in Highlands County, west of Lake Okeechobee, and has been protected and managed by The Nature Conservancy for over 20 years. This 100-acre property provides the perfect habitat for the bobcats. The preserve includes one of the few remaining areas of old growth longleaf pine forest in Florida and is home to many species of wildlife. The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker has been observed onsite. The property is surrounded by timber, citrus, and cattle ranch land, and its borders are not adjacent to highways or heavily trafficked areas that would endanger the cats.
“The Nature Conservancy’s Venus Flatwoods Preserve is the perfect location for these two young bobcats. We expect them to do very well in the healthy, maintained habitat of this protected property,” said Adam Peterson, Central Florida Fire and Land Management Specialist, The Nature Conservancy.
The sibling bobcats, named Rain (male) and Dancer (female), were rescued by Big Cat Rescue as kittens when they were found on the side of a highway without their mother in Highlands County. Thanks to the efforts of Big Cat Rescue’s bobcat rehabilitation team, the wild cats were provided with the care and training they needed to be returned to the wild. Cameras will be set up on the preserve in an effort to continue to monitor the now nine-month old cats.
“Rain and Dancer have grown up to become strong, healthy bobcats equipped with the skills to return to the wild where they belong,” said Jamie Veronica, President of Big Cat Rescue. “We are thrilled that they will be released on a vast, protected property where they will be able to find everything they need to thrive.”
Bobcats are found throughout Florida. They prefer deep forests, and are also adaptable to swamps, hammock, and rural landscapes, as well as urban and suburban backyards.
If you love bobcats kittens and want to be part of our efforts to rescue them from certain death, rehab them for life in the wild and then have the pleasure of helping them get back to the wild where they belong, there are several ways you can help.
Wear With Pride
Even if you can’t afford to help, you are their voice. Please be sure to subscribe and share all of our social channels. Just look for BigCatRescue on all of your favorite sharing sites. Use hashtags #BigCatRescue #bobcats and @BigCatRescue
A man called on Dec. 13 and I called him back the same day and told him we would take his father’s serval if he would contract to never own another exotic cat.
On the first call he said that his dad was in the hospital and not expected to survive. I told him all of the rules for us taking the cat and he agreed, but then I didn’t hear from him for 20 days.
Meanwhile, on Dec 18 we were asked by USDA to take 2 bobcats from a Donna White, but I never have been able to connect with her. Also, on Jan 1, one of our supporters asked us to rescue a rehab bobcat in CA. We contacted the rehabber there and offered to assist, but they had been misquoted in the press and the bobcat was doing fine.
On Jan 2 he called and said his dad had died and that he wanted us to take Nala. I told he we would need a health certificate and would have to ask the FWC for an import permit, which can take 2 weeks.
On Jan 3 his vet called and asked what we needed him to do as far as a health certificate because no one could handle her. I told him that the vet only has to look at the cat and say it is breathing for the purpose of the certificate. He said his wife was a vet who had worked at Jeff Kozlowski’s big cat place in WI and that he had done some exotic cat work, but that he was very happy he didn’t have to handle her. He said that he knew her vaccines were not up to date; that he thought she was declawed and thought she might have been spayed. Jason faxed me the health certificate that night and the next morning I applied to the FWC for the import permit.
On Jan 4 the son called and asked me, again, what airline to try and I told him Delta might do it, but that it was hit or miss with them. He asked if they would come get her and I assured him they would not and that he would have to catch her, put her in a dog kennel and then at the airport he’d have to show the health certificate and even then they might not take her. I told him a couple hours in the air would be a lot less stress for her than riding all day in the back of a van, but that if the airline wouldn’t accept her, we would come get her. Much to my surprise the FWC issued the import permit the same day and faxed it to me.
I emailed the son and told him the import permit had arrived. He called me late that night and said that Nala had cost him a lot more already than he thought she would to send and that he was going to ask his brother to help pay her 360.00 airfare.
On Jan 5 the son sent an email saying Nala was “paradise bound”, was in the air and would be here by 3PM. We picked her and released her into her newly renovated Cat-a-tat and video will follow soon.
** January 2013 Advocat Newsletter – Nala Arrives – Nala arrived on Sunday, January 5th at Tampa International Airport. She was met at the cargo warehouse by BCR CEO Carole Baskin, President Jamie Veronica, and volunteer veterinarian Dr. Justin Boorstein. After a short car ride she was exploring her 2,000 square foot enclosure; her new home at Big Cat Rescue. http://bigcatrescue.org/advocat-2013-01/
DOB 1/1/97 – 2/3/16
Rescue of Narla the Cougar:
This is a letter from someone who knew the Loppi’s. This person below, wanted us to know that Rob was well intended and I post it here as an example of how even the best intentions usually end up bad for the exotic animal.
According to a number of emails I got after the fact, Rob’s wife was looking to euthanize the cat, but Rob’s friends, family and the media were on her case and she couldn’t do it without looking like a monster when we were standing by, ready to take her. It is only because of supporters, like you, that we can help cats like Narla in their greatest moment of need.
Narla has been pretty much blind since she arrived, but Dr. Miller came out to check on her eyes again today.
Dr. Liz Wynn has many friends in the veterinary community and calls in specialists when it is warranted.
Previous exams have shown Narla Cougar to have eye ulcerations that have been treated with eye drops.
This exam reveals that the back side of her eyes are degenerating and Dr. Miller suspects it was from her first 14 years of insufficient nutrition before coming to Big Cat Rescue.
Dr. Tammy Miller says Narla is one of her favorite patients.
When big cats are pulled from their mothers to be hand reared as pets, like Narla had been, they never get a sufficient diet on kitten or puppy milk replacer. This causes a life time of debilitation.
More from Narla’s Rescue:
Dear Big Cat Rescue:
I am very happy that you are giving Narla a new home. Since her owner, Rob Loppi’s, death last May, I can’t tell you how many people worried and wondered what would become of Narla. My reason for writing to you is not just to thank you for taking care of Narla, but because I wanted to give you some background information. I feel it is important for you to know how Narla came to Rhode Island in the first place. Since the story of Narla’s rescue broke, I have read and heard many negative comments about Rob Loppi having this animal in the first place. There have been many comments in the newspapers that are just not accurate. Since Rob is no longer with us, and can’t defend himself, I would like the real story known. He didn’t just wake up one morning and decide on a whim that it would be great to have a cougar. I was there, and would like the true story to be told.
Rob got Narla when she was a baby, not 5 months old as was inaccurately reported. She was no bigger than a puppy, still had her baby fuzz and spots and was still being bottle fed. She was obtained by a person that Rob knew casually. This friend purchased her from a breeder in Virginia, thinking that it would be cool to have a mountain lion as a pet. When he got her home, his fiancé, correctly, would not allow him to keep her, so he brought her to Rob. People were always bringing unwanted animals to Rob…cats, dogs, goats, pigs…whatever.
Initially, Rob did not want to take her, but he was afraid that if he refused she would end up in a bad situation. Rob took her in and set about trying to find her a home. Since she was an illegal exotic at that point, this was not an easy task. He contacted the Dept. of Environmental Management in RI anonymously and was informed that they would confiscate the cat and most likely she would be destroyed – unbelievable, but true. They said that it was not their policy to find homes for dangerous animals, just to protect the environment and maintain public safety. He then contacted Roger Williams Zoo and asked them to take her – they refused because a). they do not take animals from private parties, only other zoos, and b). she came from a breeder and was bottle fed. They said that other cats would not take to her and would possibly harm or kill her. After many more such calls…you get the picture. No one would help. You should also keep in mind that this time period was before the internet was a household item, so trying to get information was much more difficult.
Feeling like he had no other options, he contacted the breeder in Virginia and asked to bring her back. He drove her to Virginia and was appalled at the conditions. Virginia’s laws on exotics are (or, at that time, were) very lenient and this guy would obviously sell to anyone as long as the price was right. He just couldn’t leave her there. He knew that she would be re-sold and probably end up in a traveling carnival or roadside “zoo” with her teeth filed down, being whipped into submission, living in deplorable conditions and spending most of her life in a crate. He knew that he could do better by her, so he made the decision that he would have to keep her to make sure that she was cared for and safe. Unfortunately, this would mean having her declawed for safety. This wasn’t something he wanted to do, but he did it in an effort to try to maintain her.
He then set about getting Narla legal. Since he already knew DEM’s position, he went to the Federal level. USDA told him what he needed to do in order to get a license to keep an exotic (again, at that time, their rules were much less stringent). He built the double cage (making it bigger and stronger than the required size and pipe diameter) with natural materials and different levels and perches for climbing, set up an account with a chicken farm so he could feed her properly, contacted a veterinarian who had the qualifications to provide medical care for Narla and set about learning everything he needed to know about the care and husbandry of mountain lions. USDA inspected and found him to be a suitable owner and he was granted a license. Once he had the USDA license in hand, DEM could not confiscate and destroy her, so he was then able to begin application for a RI license. He hired an attorney and, after getting through all the paperwork and red tape, he received the license. RI DEM inspected regularly, including random and surprise visits, always finding Narla in good care and condition.
Rob NEVER tried to domesticate Narla. He was very well aware that she was a wild animal. While he did have an amazing connection with her, she was always treated as a mountain lion, not as a house cat, which has been implied in the media. Narla has been characterized as “gentle and affectionate” and she was…with Rob. This, as you know, is the case with big cats…they bond to one person and can be jealous and aggressive with others. Visitors and friends were not allowed to just hang out in the living room with her. She didn’t just wander freely around the house or yard. Even Rob’s closest friends were not allowed direct contact. This wasn’t Siegfried and Roy. She is a predator and certainly capable of attacking and killing. He knew that, and safety was always the first priority, not just our safety, but Narla’s too. People can be foolish and cruel, which is why Rob didn’t want the general public to know about her. That was another reason for the double cage, not just to keep Narla in, but to keep people out. There was only one other person, Rob’s friend Mike, who was allowed to care for Narla and did so during Rob’s illness. Mike was trained in Narla’s care and feeding and did a great job. Rob was so grateful to Mike. With all he was going through, many rounds of chemotherapy treatments, numerous infections and finally a bone marrow transplant, at least he knew Narla was in good hands.
Rob didn’t use Narla as a gimmick or sideshow attraction. Sure, people knew about her and would be curious to see her, but he never profited from her. He allowed “ordinary” people to come to see her in her cage, but never allowed media attention. He wouldn’t give interviews, allow media photos or any exploitation of her in any way. He didn’t want to glorify having a big cat in his yard. He didn’t want people to think that it is ok to try to keep a mountain lion as a pet. Rob knew that keeping her was not an ideal situation, but at that time, he felt he was doing what was best for her. When he made the decision to keep Narla, he took on a huge financial burden…food, supplements, veterinary care, etc. and he could have very easily used this beautiful animal as a way to make money, but that was never his way. He just wanted to give her the best life he could and keep her safe.
So, now you know Narla’s story. I felt that it was important for you to know that, while she may have been raised in someone’s backyard, she wasn’t just a passing fancy, she wasn’t a “pet“ in the conventional sense of the word. She was a lifelong responsibility taken on by a guy who made a hard decision based on limited options. Had she not been born to a breeder in Virginia who sells these animals to anyone with enough money to buy them, without any thought or concern for where they will live or how they will be treated, she would not have been in Rhode Island. If Rob hadn’t “rescued” her first, Big Cat Rescue may have found Narla in a horrible situation, if she had survived at all.
Thank you again for all that you do for these animals and, especially for Narla. She is always loved and surely missed.