We are a sanctuary, not a zoo, so our animals come first. We do not allow people to wander around unescorted. Our tours are all guided and provide an educational experience that includes the plight of big cats in the wild and in captivity and what you can do to save them. You will be expected to follow these Tour Rules.
In Florida, weather is always an issue. In the summer it rains frequently, but often only for a few minutes. If you have paid for a tour and get rained out during your tour, we will give you a free pass to come back. Because the cats are spooked by umbrellas, they are not allowed but you should bring a rain coat or poncho if it looks like rain. Tours will be canceled during lightening storms. Paths are frequently muddy so closed toed, old, comfortable shoes are recommended.
You may bring your own cold drinks or buy ours but either way, be prepared for the heat.
You are welcome to take photos and video on the tour, but leave the tripods at home, or purchase a private tour. We ask everyone on the tour to stay together, no smoking, no cell phone calls and respect the tour guides warnings so that you have the best possible experience.
If you are traveling with pets, you cannot bring them onto the property. Florida law (and common sense) prohibit you from leaving them in your car, even with the A/C running.
A few years ago Vernon Stairs was using the weed whacker back in the heavy brush behind Cameron the Lion and Zabu the White Tiger’s cage when he accidentally stepped into a fallen bee’s nest. The hundreds of stings he endured would have killed most people and certainly would have killed our cats. You can imagine our trepidation when we discovered three HUGE hives on the sanctuary grounds!
We were really torn between wanting to insure the safety of our cats and our workers and being aware of the fact that honeybees are dying off at an alarming rate, due primarily to the use of pesticides.
According to Einstein, if the bee disappears then man only has four years left to live.
Barbara Stairs got busy (dare I say, like a bee?) to find someone who could rescue and relocate the bees. She followed a lot of leads that led no where before being funneled through the University of South Florida and out to some previous students who just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE BEES!
Bryan and Erica started a honey bee rescue and honey product Facebook group called Urban Buzz. They are just getting started, but have a lot of knowledge about bees and a strong desire to preserve the important role they serve in nature. You can see how expertly they relocated the bees from our trees to their hives in the video below:
A single bobcat requires 5 square miles of territory in order to have enough prey to support him. All exotic cats, male and female, spray to mark their boundaries. Except for an overlapping of territory during mating the cats patrol and defend their boundaries against other cats and other top predators. These boundaries must be fiercely guarded or the cats will starve to death. If two wild cats find themselves in the same area they will fight to the death. That is why respecting these scent marked boundary lines is so important to them.
…the cat is being dumped into some other cat’s territory
and one of them is going to die.
Bobcats will almost never show themselves, so if you see one it may mean that development around you has taken his home or that sport hunters have taken his food. Nature is perfectly balanced until man enters the scene with a gun. If you are living in an area where a wild cat has called home and the cat is transported to another suitable habitat, then you can be sure the cat is being dumped into some other cat’s territory and one of them is going to die. You may reason that your home is in a busy city environment and the cat is in peril because it is crossing busy highways and coming in close contact with people with guns. That is true and that is sad but relocating the cat is not the answer.
Bobcats are smart and can live right alongside people and stay out of trouble. They are a great asset as they prey upon rats and help control disease by keeping the vermin population in check. Nature is perfectly balanced until man steps in and starts trying to eliminate key animals in the cycle of life.
I went outside to feed the birds today and saw a bobcat.
He (or she) was about 200 feet away, resting on the ground in front of the compost pile.
Compost piles are wildlife magnets. The odiferous porridge of kitchen wastes attracts mammals large and small. I’ve watched foxes and raccoons explore these bins of human detritus, but this was the first time a bobcat showed interest in the family dumping ground for avocado pits, eggshells, burnt rice and apple cores.
The bobcat, a tawny mass of cropped fur and pointy ears, looked comfortable. Like an oversized house cat who had just polished off a hearty meal, he rested contentedly on the matted grass. We eyed each other from afar. I squatted low, to appear less threatening. The cat simply stared in my direction, tufted ears at full attention, assessing the menace.
Reluctant to miss anything, but eager to immortalize this special moment, I rose slowly and slipped back into the house. Unfortunately, my camera wasn’t hanging on the hook next to the kitchen door as I assumed it would be.
Not wanting to waste precious time searching the house, I eased back outside. By then, the bobcat had risen, but remained in the same place.
The feral feline must have realized (correctly) that I was harmless, because he proceeded to stretch with a long, leisurely gee-I-wish-you-hadn’t-disturbed-me arch of the back. Standing my ground, I watched in awe.
Moments later, the object of my attention ambled off toward a more sheltered environ. There was nothing frantic or fearful about his movements. His graceful gait was slow and steady. I watched as he rounded the corner, disappearing from sight. Wanting more, I followed in his wake, moving as quietly as my bare feet would allow.
As I approached, I noticed the bobcat had paused beneath the overhanging branches of a nearby mulberry tree. The low-hanging limbs of the leafy fruit tree provided a tangled web that blended perfectly with his reddish-brown fur. When I rounded the corner, the cat caught sight of me. He responded by moving toward the woods. My eyes followed his trail for an instant before he vanished into the brambly undergrowth.
My one-on-one moment with nature was over. My only photographs were mental snapshots of the bobcat’s movements. I rushed back inside, eager to share my experience with Ralph and Toby.
Although this was the first time I’ve seen a bobcat by the compost pile, it was not my first sighting. On at least a half dozen occasions, I’ve chanced upon bobcats on the property. Each encounter has been spectacular, a cherished gift. But these experiences concern me, too. I’m not scared for myself or for the safety of others, but for the bobcats themselves. Every peek into the waning wilderness reminds me of what we have to lose.
So much untamed land has already been developed. What will happen to the bobcats, bears, deer, foxes and coyotes when people eliminate even more woods to make way for shopping centers, residential communities and industrial complexes?
The Florida panther is endangered. According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), only about 100 of these magnificent mammals remain in the wild. About a million bobcats roam throughout North America. In Florida, they are neither endangered nor threatened. But how long can that last?
Bobcats are solitary hunters. A male needs about 4,900 acres of field and forest in order to supply its carnivorous needs. A female needs 2,900 acres. That’s so much land. While these dog-size consumers of rats, mice, birds and rabbits can adapt to eating out of compost piles, foraging through trash cans and licking the remains of pet food bowls, it’s unlikely suburban residents will welcome their arrival to the neighborhood. Any nondomesticated creature that wanders into suburbia is more apt to arouse panic than peaceful observation and gratitude.
That’s not how I feel. I’m grateful for any chance to see a wild animal — large or small, on foot, wing or water.
I went out to feed the birds today and wound up feeding my own insatiable appetite for wildlife encounters. The few minutes the bobcat and I shared made an impression that will last for years. Will moments like this continue to happen? I don’t know, but I hope they will. I hope time is gentle to bobcats and the many other creatures whose fate relies heavily on the course of human actions.
Keep this in mind before you call someone and ask them to relocate a wild animal. It is against the law for a trapper to relocate a problem animal. They have to kill him or her by state law.
1/29/2009 The following is the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission’s position on killing nuisance bobcats instead of relocating them or allowing them to be given sanctuary at Big Cat Rescue and other such sanctuaries.
“We sincerely appreciate and share your concerns for Florida’s wildlife, particularly in the recent incident in which a bobcat was euthanized after it was captured by a nuisance wildlife trapper in an Orlando community.
Nobody likes to see an animal killed like this, whether the reason makes sense biologically or for public safety, or not. In fact, allowing nuisance animals to be euthanized is something we would rather not do, and we consider that to be a last resort. This particular incident is very sad and unfortunate, but as is often the case, it may have resulted from inappropriate behavior by people.
The staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is dedicated to wildlife conservation, which means protecting and managing wildlife species. So allowing an animal like this bobcat to be euthanized may seem counter to our agency’s mission. But, as unfortunate as it is, this bobcat was an example of an animal for which there was no good alternative other than euthanasia.
Many people have called our agency to ask why this bobcat couldn’t be taken to a zoo or other type of captive wildlife facility. The reason is that it’s difficult or impossible for many animals taken from the wild to adapt to living in a captive situation. As a result, most captive wildlife facilities are hesitant to take them because the animals become stressed, are subject to illness, fight with other animals and introduce disease into the facility.
People also asked why it couldn’t be relocated to the wild. There are many reasons for this, which are explained below, but the bottom line is that this animal had become too accustomed to being around people and no longer had much fear of them.
How this unnatural behavior happened is unknown, but the fact remains that it did. The bobcat was no longer acting like a wild bobcat. People in the community may have allowed it to eat pet food, or may even have set out food specifically for the bobcat. Or maybe nobody did anything to discourage it from hanging around. Maybe at first it was a novelty to see a bobcat up close, perhaps a good photo opportunity. So people tiptoed around the bobcat, and nobody tried to scare it away.
Or maybe the bobcat was sick; sick animals often exhibit unnatural behaviors and sometimes may lose their fear of people.
A wild animal that loses its fear and becomes comfortable around people, for whatever reason, is not a wild animal you want in your neighborhood. An animal like this becomes unpredictable and could easily injure someone. If it is sick and attacks someone the problems are even worse.
Moving an animal such as this bobcat provides an opportunity for it to become the same problem animal in a different neighborhood, or perhaps it could even spread disease to other wild animals in a new area.
Studies have shown that many relocated wild animals often try to return home – no matter how far away home is. Along the way an animal like this bobcat may find another neighborhood whose residents offer the same amenities – generally easy meals and few threats to its safety. The nuisance problems then start all over again in a new community.
Relocated animals cross unfamiliar roads and often get hit and injured or killed by vehicles. And, they end up in another bobcat’s established territory, alone and unfamiliar with the lay of the land. They often fall victim to fights that are frequently won by the resident animal.
The best solution to wild animals becoming nuisance animals is people – you and me – making sure that our actions don’t cause wild animals to change their behaviors. The key is in knowing how to live with them. Even in a state with seemingly runaway development, we can and often do co-exist with many wild animals. If people do the right things, then harm usually won’t come to either us or the animals.
If this is to work, it may require some people to modify their own behavior. How much you have to modify often depends upon where you live or how recently your neighborhood was built. It is often a real benefit to live right next to wetlands or woods, but if you do, you probably have lots of wildlife neighbors, some of which are looking for easy meals.
One of the surest ways to make a wild animal lose its fear of people and become a nuisance is to leave your pet’s food outside. For that matter, leaving any kind of food outside can attract wild critters. If we leave our garbage in an unsecured trash can, it can become a buffet for raccoons, bears, opossums and other wild animals. The seemingly innocuous birdfeeders can sometimes attract much more than birds. Even compost piles are heavenly to some wildlife. Unfortunately, in the end, all of these foods that humans provide unwittingly to wild critters can lead to the death of those wild critters who are so tempted by them.
We are all affected when the wild animals become used to people, then are branded nuisances and are sentenced to death. Nobody likes that, but often people can make small changes in their actions and prevent it from happening.
I hope this helps you understand some of the issues we face when humans and wildlife interact in these situations, as well as some of the solutions.
You may also find the enclosed document useful. It explains some of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s nuisance wildlife rules and provides a little more information about why it’s rarely a good idea to relocate wildlife.
Again, thank you for your heartfelt concern, and please know that we share many of your concerns.
FWC Citizen Services”
Update 2010: Thanks to so many Big Cat Rescuers showing up to ask the FWC to protect the bobcat, they revised their ruling that all trapped bobcats must be killed to say that the bobcat must be released as close to the point of pick up as possible and that it must be on at least 40 acres, in the same county and there must be a signed approval for release by the owner of the property OR the bobcat has to be killed.
Why so many cougar attacks and cougar sightings?
Every day there is a story in a paper somewhere in the U.S. about cougar or mountain lion sightings in areas where the cats have not existed in the wild in over 100 years. Why is that? Could it possibly be that despite the fact that extinction rates are more than 1000 times greater than they should be due to the uncontrolled population growth of man and our extermination of everything in our path, the cougar is making a come back? That is what the fish and game departments across the country are claiming, but that is because they make their money from the issuance of permits to kill big cats. Hunters have wiped out the Jaguar for the most part and the cougar only exists in a few areas. Fish and game “experts” would have us believe that despite the fact that the big cats have been driven to extinction in most of their ranges around the world, that miraculously, the much-prized-trophy-cougar is alive and well and a public menace to boot.
Consider a much more likely scenario: The cougars who are being spotted in areas where they haven’t lived in up to 200 years, who are brazen enough to walk through subdivisions, and nap in trees above the family mini van, and who are living off eating dogs and cats and other domestic animals are the pets and captive born breeders turned loose due to the new law that makes it illegal to sell cougars across state lines. The Captive Wild Animal Safety Act was signed into law in Dec. 2003 by President Bush and immediately there was a flurry of cougar sightings. In every case the stories paint a portrait of a cougar nonchalantly strolling through a neighborhood. This is the behaviour of an animal born and raised around people, not a wild animal.
They had a hard time explaining why one of them who was hit by a car
turned out to be declawed.
Delighted with the prospect of being able to sell permits to shoot the majestic cats the department of natural resources keeps assuring the public that these are wild cougars and that blasting them out of the trees is done in the name of public safety. They had a hard time explaining why one of them who was hit by a car turned out to be declawed.
Big Cat Rescue tracked the calls we received from people trying to get rid of unwanted big cats over the past decade:
Unwanted We Took Found We Offered We Took
Big Cats These Homes To Take These
1999 55 13 * * 7 tigers, 2 cougars, 2 bobcats, 2 servals
2000 54 11 * * 7 tigers, 2 jungle cats + hybrids
2001 78 10 6 * 2 lions, 4 bobcats + hybrids
2002 74 4 0 * 2 tigers, 1 leopard, 1 bobcat
2003 312 8 4 * 2 jaguars, 1 leopard, 3 bobcats, + hybrids
2004 110 6 3 * 5 tigers, 1 lion
2005 94 9 2 * 6 tigers, 3 cougars; Ares, Artemis, Orion
2006 79 0 0 * none other than hybrids
2007 67 13 1 * 6 tigers, 2 lions, 5 rehab bobcats *who are not incl in list of abandoned cats
2008 85 3 0 22 2 tigers, 1 liger: Cookie, Alex, Freckles
2009 50 2 0 17 1 cougar, 1 serval; Sophia and Desiree
2010 89 9 1 53 3 cougars, Narla, Freddy, Sassy, 5 bobcats and a serval named Servie
1147 88 17
…these cats are being turned loose to fend
Every year that number was growing dramatically, but in the year following the new law prohibiting the sale of big cats across state lines as pets, the number dropped by 1/3. The only other marginal drop was right after 9/11 and that coincided with a huge drop in discretionary spending.
It is a shame that these cats are being turned loose to fend for themselves. They don’t have the skills and some cases don’t even have the claws, to catch their own food. Those who are not shot will probably starve to death and in time we will start to see a drop in the number of sightings reported. The only good news is that this new federal law has been effective at curbing the number of cougars and lions that are being born for a life of misery and captivity.
People are still getting around the prohibition on big cats as pets by calling themselves educators or sanctuaries. Big Cat Rescue is working hard to close the loopholes in the laws that allow people to exploit big cats for profit. Please bookmark our page on Laws to keep up on the latest efforts to make the world a safer place for people and the exotic cats.
How do the wildlife agencies make it worse?
Nature has become purposely imbalanced by our wildlife agencies in order to insure that there are plenty of animals to be killed for fun and profit. Cougars prefer deer and rabbits to people, but our wildlife departments make money from selling permits to the 5% of our population that enjoying killing the cougar’s natural prey. This is often done in excess so that the cougars appear to be a public menace so that the state’s fish and game departments can then gain public support to sell the permits to kill the highly prized cougars.
Fact: Only 5% (12.5 million) of our population are hunters, yet they kill over 115
million animals each year for fun.
These are just the animals that licensed hunters report killing and do not include all the animals who are poached each year by those who believe that they are above the law. Even more despicable are the canned hunts where far too many exotic cats end up when they are discarded from zoos, circus acts and pet owners. Although it is illegal to kill most endangered species, the practice is common and for the right price and a guarantee of secrecy trophy hunters can kill a tiger or leopard while it sits in a cage. If this isn’t bad enough consider the fact that they don’t want to ruin the trophy and will therefore aim for areas that cause a slow and painful death.
Wild cats do not purchase hunting licenses and most state wildlife managers draw their pay from revenue derived from the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. That, in brief, is what is wrong with wildlife management in America. In the US the decisions to protect or destroy, conserve or control, restore populations or reduce them are made by the interest of hunters. The 93% of Americans who do not hunt have been effectively excluded from the decision making process. Now that more caring people are trying to get involved, the state’s are fighting as never before to keep them out. Understanding the hunter’s hold on wildlife is the critical first step to loosening that grip.
Hunting and fishing licenses are not simply issued by the state, but sold for a fee. Normally, these fees would be deposited in a state’s general treasury, and from there appropriated to whatever state programs the public, acting through their elected legislators, consider important. Instead, however, the conservation lobby persuaded state legislatures to dedicate hunting and fishing license fees to conservation programs. This means that license fees go directly to the state’s wildlife management agency, effectively insulating it from the legislature’s – and thereby the public’s – most effective means of oversight, the power of the purse. In a very real sense, state wildlife agency staff are not public servants, they are employees of the hunters and fishers whose license fees fund their programs and pay their salaries.
In 2006 12.5 million hunters spent $23 billion on their sport of which $642,069,054 went to wildlife agencies. 71 million wildlife watchers spent $45 billion in 2001, nearly twice as much as hunters, a fact generally ignored by state wildlife agencies when they tout the economic benefits of hunting. Since wildlife watchers do not have to purchase licenses or tags and they do not pay a tax on their equipment, the percentage of their $45 billion that went to wildlife agencies was exactly zero. Who do you think the wildlife agencies are working for?
In 2006 Thirty-one percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older fed, observed, or photographed wildlife. These wildlife watchers increased in number by 8% from 2001 to 2006. Their expenditures for wildlife-watching equipment (binoculars, cameras, etc.) increased by 20% and for wildlife-watching trips by 40%.
The mass murder and manipulation of wild animals is just another business. Hunters are a tiny minority, and it’s crucial to them that the millions of people who don’t hunt not be awakened from their long sleep and become anti hunting. (Williams 1990) In 1995 the Humane Society of the United States, HSUS attempted to compile information about the structure of the wildlife commissions across the nation. Seventeen states refused to respond, indicating their disdain for animal lover’s involvement in THEIR business. The remaining states admitted that their boards are dominated by consumptive wildlife users. Several of these are people who own canned hunting operations. Most important is to note, that by their own admission, none of their commission members are opposed to hunting. Consider now the fact that another poll of the public, taken the same year, showed that 93% do not hunt and that most Americans are opposed to the brutal practice. Clearly these governing boards are not representing the majority of the people in their wildlife management policies.
The myth that we have been expected to buy into says; “We have to kill animals so that they don’t over populate and starve to death.” The fact is that habitat is managed for maximum deer and duck numbers; wildlife is trapped and transplanted to the killing fields; fires are set; trees are planted or mown down; fields are flooded and fields are drained all to maximize the numbers of animals available to hunters for the joy of killing. Natural predators, such as Cougars, Bobcats, Lynx, Wolves and Coyotes are killed by the thousands so that they don’t compete with the hunters.
The predominance of Aldo Leopold’s philosophy in wildlife management assures that our incredible war on wildlife can continue indefinitely. It is, in fact, the only war in history conducted by rules that were deliberately designed to keep it from ending. The conservation philosophy was created to guarantee that animals will continue to suffer and die at the hands of hunters forever. It is a philosophy of animal abuse in perpetuity.
Florida spends more on wildlife law enforcement than it does on wildlife and fisheries management combined. This is typical of most states. We expect to pay our officers to protect the unbridled exploitation of our state’s wildlife, but the bulk of the budget is spent to ensure that the licensed hunters and anglers are obeying the law regarding size, weight and number of kills. These expenditures would be virtually un necessary if there were no hunting. This fact undermines the assertion made by the hunting industry that it pays for wildlife and parks. At the very best, hunters pay to produce lots of animals that they want to kill and pay to enforce regulations to keep each other from killing too many of them or in an illegal
The numbers killed are staggering. These figures all came from reported kills, in just one recent year, by licensed hunters and do not include
animals that were killed illegally:
As people become more enlightened fewer and fewer people each year are taking up hunting as a sport. To change this trend, the hunters and the state’s wildlife agencies are promoting hunting to children. Faced with declining numbers of hunters and an increasing population of non consumptive wildlife users, the states are circling the wagons to protect hunting. Instead of seriously seeking alternative sources of funding, ways to include the non hunting public, and management that emphasizes non hunted species, they are trying to increase hunter numbers so that they don’t have to change the status quo. Your tax dollars are paying for promotional campaigns to urge children as young as 6 to get involved in trapping and killing animals because it has been discovered that if a child is not exposed to this sort of violence during their formative years, they will be very unlikely to be able to stomach the thought of killing for pleasure as an adult. Animal abuse is directly linked to human abuse and murder.
For more details read: Teach Our Children.
Five percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older, 12.5 million people, hunted in 2006. The number of all hunters declined by 4% from 2001 to 2006. Wildlife agencies are now targeting children as young as 10 and women as the hunters of the future by portraying the killing of animals as a way to feel empowered in their world. See USFWS 2006 report.
What can we do to stop the violence?
The answer lies in becoming active and speaking out. Most of us feel the same way, but we aren’t being heard, because we are standing idly by waiting for someone else to do the right thing. Most wildlife commissioners are appointed by the governor.
Use your state’s freedom of information act to find out how members are appointed to your board and what their position really is on wildlife protection. Make sure that plenty of non hunters attend each meeting of your wildlife commission. Make sure that they attend to important issues like hound hunting, baiting, long trap check intervals, hunting contests, children recruitment policies and how animals are identified as being so unworthy of protection that there is unlimited, open season on their killing.
Speak out calmly and professionally. To act irrational and thus label all people who care as being unstable won’t help the animals. Ask the commission to schedule votes on these issues and to go on the record about their support of them. Get the press involved to cover the meetings and the failure of the commission to act in favour of reasonable wildlife protection measures. The media wants to print articles that will be favourable to the masses and the masses have said that they are not in favour of hunting.
Work to change the composition of the commission to include members who are not hunters. Lobby the governor’s office to appoint qualified candidates who represent the majority of the people in your state. If these candidates are continually passed over in favour of less
qualified hunters, then let the media know about it. Work with your state legislator so see if perhaps a ballot initiative might be implemented to restructure the commission.
Lobby members of the appropriate committees in your state legislature to earmark general funds for the support of the wildlife department. With enough funding we can demand that our concerns be seriously addressed by the commission and the department.
If you don’t know who your representatives are, you can find them on line by clicking on the lion at the left.
115 million animals are counting on YOU to speak out for them this year.
DejaVu is all I can say. It happens over and over, like a recurring nightmare for the wild animals suffering through it; only the names and places change.
Someone wants to “rescue” wild animals because that seems like glamorous work, so they buy animals (and just prolong the problem) until the really bad guys find out there is a new place to dump last year’s photo cubs, and then the “rescues” become more legitimate, in the eyes of the “rescuer” because at least they aren’t paying for animals any more. Usually the big cats who need rescuing are the cubs who just outgrew the ridiculous 8-12 week window, in which USDA condones the use of cubs for photo and pay to play sessions. All it takes to fix this mess is for USDA to acknowledge that it is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act to take cubs from their mothers for this inhumane, unethical, albeit lucrative exploitation… But I digress.
Five years go by, and citations pile up for not providing sufficient shelter, not having an attending vet, not willing to provide documentation of where the cats came from or went and having a perimeter fence that was only 2 feet above the 6 feet of snow. This article from 2009 detailed the illegal purchase of a leopard that resulted in seizure and a fine, as well as a number of other violations, and yet the media treated it like a puff piece. http://bigcatrescue.org/lions-tigers-and-bears-find-refuge/
So, every few weeks more litters of lions, tigers, primates and bears are bred, used and discarded into these pseudo sanctuaries. But then the animals grow up into 500 pound apex predators who require thousands of dollars in food & vet care each year and before you know it, the “sanctuaries” have collapsed under the collective weight and debt. Then other sanctuaries, of varying financial stability, are called in to clean up the mess; but most of those are not in much better shape than the facilities they are being asked to bail out.
Big cats are bounced around from breeder, to photo booth operator, to the public as pets, who then dump them into the hands of backyard hoarders, who collapse and then the bigger sanctuaries come and move them to their fourth or fifth home, where they may stay until they die, but even then will sometimes end up in yet another rescue situation when the bigger places fail as well.
The second worst part of all of this is that the animals suffer from the time they are only a few hours or days old, when they are ripped from their mothers and thrust into this dismal cycle, and begin the years of suffering as the legal processes wind through the courts.
In 1997 Ken and Jackie Wisniewski started “rescuing” big cats, bears, wolves and a variety of other wild and domestic animals. Before long they were in over their heads. Feeding the animals wasn’t a problem because there is a lot of roadkill in Sinclairville, NY. We counted half a dozen dead deer, a duck and raccoon, in just two days visiting this sleepy little town. Maybe the locals drive too fast, or maybe it is all of the grape vineyards and farms that attract so much native wildlife.
The problem was that the rotting carcasses were just left to fester, along with the piling excrement, in the tiny, barren cages. The lions and tigers, who are the most fastidious creatures on earth, were forced to live in these abysmal, fly infested conditions while USDA went through the tedious process of citing the facility year, after year, after year with no improvements.
Finally after many years of failing to to provide vet care or clean and safe caging, USDA revoked the license, which is a multi year task. The state of NY had previously banned the private possession of big cats, bears and wolves, but in all but 4 states (KY, OH, WA & WV) a person could circumvent the ban if they held a USDA license.
Now JnK had lost their USDA license and the animals could have been seized years ago, but as is often the case, the violator will just have a family member or friend get a USDA license issued in their name and then the whole process starts over. When Ken and Jackie Wisniewski lost their USDA license, they just had their daughter, Kristy Wisniewski, get one in her name. It’s easy: a one page form, name, address and phone and $40 and you can get around any ban, just about anywhere.
So, the long legal battles had to start over again until the daughter had a falling out with her mother and decided not to renew her USDA license. What usually happens is that there would now be no government agency checking in on the animals and conditions. These kinds of places would then enjoy the luxury of doing as they please with no one looking over their shoulder, and that would always lead to worse conditions for the animals.
By this time Terry Thompson in Zanesville, OH had set free 56 lions, tigers and bears in 2011 and state agencies woke up to the fact that it could happen in their states too. The NY state attorney’s office decided to send a message to all of the backyard breeders, dealers and pseudo sanctuaries that they would no longer turn a blind eye to the danger that these facilities pose to the public and launched the biggest seizure of wild animals in New York’s history.
USDA contacted the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and asked if they could place the JnK animals. GFAS made arrangements for all of the animals to be rescued, but then Jackie Wisniewski decided that she didn’t want to give them up and would wait and see if the NY Department of Environmental Conservation really would take action, or if they would, like they do in most places, just ignore the situation until someone was mauled or killed.
On May 27, 2014 at 7:30 am Jackie Wisniewski found out the state of NY wasn’t bluffing.
What she couldn’t know, and we couldn’t tell you, is that the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, had taken the lead and arranged for the 11 tigers, 3 lions, 3 bears, and 2 wolves to be picked up and transported to Big Cat Rescue in FL via Loving Friends, Safe Haven Wildlife Rescue Zoo in NV, Wild Animal Sanctuary in CO, In-Sync Exotics in TX, the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in IN, and Animal Lifeline would transport the wolves to a facility in PA. On July 3rd IFAW reimbursed the transport costs of $4,409.03 for Big Cat Rescue.
We couldn’t let the cat out of the bag until after the last animal was rescued from the site for fear of starting a media circus that could propel the owner into doing something dangerous to the animals or the rescue crews. We know that most people who will donate to help big cats want to fund a rescue, but once the cats are safe, they are off to the next exciting rescue.
We hope that you are different.
We went out on a limb because these cats were literally starving to death, and one tiger, Sasha, had died before we even arrived. (We had agreed to take four tigers, but when we got there Sasha was no longer alive and no one seemed to know anything about why or when she died. Some said she was alive last summer, others said she was still alive in Feb of this year and others said she had been dead for years) We had to give up the chance to involve everyone in the excitement of a rescue because these cats depended on us keeping quiet so the owner wouldn’t do anything foolish. We were able to load our tigers by 1PM on Tues. May 27, 2014 but had to maintain silent mode until all of the animals were safely on their way to other rescue sites.
What we saw during the rescue was unimaginable suffering and conditions that clearly threatened everyone in the area. No agency had been able to inspect the animals since December 2013 (nearly 6 months ago) and at that time they said the cats were well fed, but that the rotting carcasses, piles of feces and ramshackle cages were reason enough to seize the animals. “Well fed” appears to be a judgement call because the 2009 video of the tigers showed them to to be far too thin 5 years ago, in our opinion. JnK had a pile of citations for not allowing inspectors onto the property, but in many cases those are considered by the bad guys to be far less incriminating than actually answering the gate and letting inspectors see what they are doing.
The cats were starving to death!
Their ragged fur, which was missing in places from laying in their own excrement, was stretched taut over protruding bones. Kimba the tigress, (born 8/94) seemed to have just given up and laid, unresponsive, in her den. Former volunteers there said she had been bred to Zeus for 4-6 litters of cubs in her life) It wasn’t until she saw that there was the promise of food, in exchange for pulling her aching body up into the transport wagon, that she came to life. Big Cat Rescue President, Jamie Boorstein, had locked Kimba in her den so that we could push the wagon up to the rickety door. As soon as she was released and given the scent of beef on a stick, she followed it right into the foreign transport box without much hesitation.
Zeus the tiger, (born 9/96 to Kimba) has limited vision and it looks like his retina may be separated in his eye, which can be extremely painful. Other tigers there had the same strange looking eyes, where the golden part of the iris has almost completely covered over the lens. As soon as Zeus saw food, he RAN down the length of his cage, chasing Big Cat Rescue’s Operations Manager, Gale Ingham, who was racing (outside the cage) toward the beast wagon that had been affixed to a hole that was cut into the side of his cage. Zeus was the largest tiger and the hole wasn’t really big enough, but metal piping made it impossible to make the hole any larger. Zeus didn’t care. He wanted that life giving morsel of food so bad that he squeezed, like liquid tiger, through the opening into the circus wagon. Jamie dropped the door and Zeus was on his way to a life of luxury that he couldn’t possibly imagine.
The cages were rotted to the point of falling apart. Rusty screws held ragged sheets of plywood together for the dens and doors. If the tigers had any strength left in them, they could have burst through. This made for some tense moments, especially when it came to loading Keisha the tigress. (born 5/00 to Kimba and Zeus)
Apparently, the way cats had been fed, back when they were being fed, was they were locked out of their dens, the food tossed into the dens via a back door, and then they were let back into the den.
The part that has to be explained here is that the dens were made of crumbling plywood. Citations went back to 2012 for these unsafe conditions. The doors had deteriorated over time to the point where a makeshift system was rigged to keep the tigers from just pushing the doors out of their rotted frames. It was made of curtain hooks that were shaped in a semicircle and screwed with tiny, and now rusted screws; one on either side of the door opening. Then 2 pipes were passed through the hooks to hold the doors shut. Jamie took a handful of the material and it turned to shards and dust in her hand.
The first attempt at capturing Keisha was to shut her in the den, then hook up the transport to a hole that was hastily cut into the side of her prison cell. With the other cats, Rescuers had been able to shut them out of their dens and lead them into the wagons, but Keisha still had life enough left in her to be frantic to eat, so as soon as her den door shut her out into the yard, she began clawing frantically to get back into the den where she thought the food would be. When a cat is focused on something, there isn’t much you can do to get their attention. Gale was waving the chicken and beef chunks on a stick and trying to get Keisha to forget about getting back into the den for food. It wasn’t working.
The area where Rescuers were working was so tight that the rope holding the transport door open had to be threaded into a vacant, nearby cage and operated from there by Big Cat Rescue’s CEO and Founder, Carole Baskin. Jamie decided to pull the den door open and hold it open so that Keisha could see for herself that there wasn’t any food in there, but Keisha was afraid to climb into the hay filled beast wagon and sensed it was a trap.
In typical cat style, she would stretch her neck and one paw as far toward the juicy meat as she could, without committing her back legs. Gale let her come in and get a piece or two, to see that nothing would happen, and on the third offering Keisha was emboldened to climb all the way in.
Keisha only has half an ear and a little bobbed tail. We think she lost them to the lions next door.
All over this compound the bears and big cats shared common walls of a material never witnessed by Big Cat Rescuers for housing big cats. The openings in the metal cattle panels were 8 inches wide and 6 inches high. It is incomprehensible that no human ever lost their life or limbs working so close to such dangerous wild animals, with nothing to prevent the animals from reaching the full length of their arms out to grab the passerby.
In the 2009 video above Jackie Wisniewski reaches her arm, all the way up to her armpit, to pet the cats and talks about how her staff and volunteers have to earn the cat’s trust to pet them this way, but then admits that the cats are always looking for a way to pull you into the cage.
In some places a new barricade fence had been erected (where previously there had been none) and it was so tight against the cage that there was NO safe way to walk around the enclosure. All of the animals had shared walls which must have led to some intensive fights and quite possibly the deaths of animals along the way. No one seemed to know exactly when or how Sacha the tigress had died.
The only cage to have a double wall (one with a space of about 3 feet between the walls) was the one between Keisha and 2 lionesses. Keisha and the lionesses both had common walls with Zeus, but it would appear that after Keisha lost her ear and tail, someone finally installed a double wall between the lions and Keisha. That one small measure has probably saved her life, but her tail healed in such a scarred and unusual way that it’s doubtful she had a vet attend to her wounds. In the video you can see that her tail was missing as far back as 2009.
As each of the cats were loaded into their transport wagons they were rolled up into Loving Friend’s transport vehicle where they probably experienced air conditioning for the first time ever. Even though they loaded quite easily, they were all stressed out by the move and the chaos of the day, so the lower temp helped take some of the edge off. Within minutes Kimba was sound asleep in the deep, soft hay.
If anyone wouldn’t survive this trip, it would be Kimba. She just had so little spirit left in her. I checked on her several times to be sure she was still breathing, and seemed blissfully asleep. Update: 17 Days later we had to euthanize Kimba because she could not recover from the ailments brought on by being kept in such filth and starved. More here: http://bigcatrescue.org/euthanize-tiger/
Zeus gulped down water before laying down in his big fluffy hay bed. These cats, like so many others across the country, were kept on rocks. There was no place for them to feel the soft earth, nor roll in the grass, nor enjoy the shade of trees or bushes. The only shade, or escape from the sharp edged rocks, was in their smelly dens and on a small table in each cage, but these cats didn’t look fit to jump up onto them. Zeus had been a big and powerful male tiger at some point in his life, but now you could see the remains of his wasted muscles and protrusion of his ribs and hips.
Big Cat Rescuers loaded tigers for 2 hours and the officer in charge commented that we worked together like a well oiled machine. Despite the rush to load the tigers and move out of the way for the next rescue group, there were some heart breaking moments. The worst for cat lovers was the owner said her cat had died, so she had thrown the cat into the cage that housed the 4 youngest tigers, who appear to have been born at JnK in 2004 and were probably considered favorites.
As hungry as those tigers must have been; something must have registered in their heads that this was just too awful to consider. Time may have finally caused them to overcome their disgust at being fed another cat, had they not been rescued today, so the bloated body of the domestic cat laid there in a haze of flies.
As soon as the tigers were all loaded and their transport cages were strapped down for the 22 hour trip, Big Cat Rescuers and JT and Laura Taylor of Loving Friends were on their way back to Tampa.
The cost of the transport and rescue was approximately $7,000, but that is just the beginning. Getting these tigers back on the road to health will mean vet care, and specialists for the eyes. It means a lot of high quality food, vitamins, joint supplements and probably a good deal of pain management. Just one healthy tiger costs Big Cat Rescue $10,000 per year, just for food and vet care and these neglected tigers will need much more intensive care. Even though they are safe and will never go hungry again, it is only because people like you will open your hearts to these precious creatures. Please let them know that you are there for them, for now and forever, with a monthly gift of whatever you can afford.
In this 2007 video Jackie claimed Zeus was 850 lbs
By 2014 they look to be less than 400 lbs. for Zeus and less than 300 lbs for the females.
IFAW Footage of the Rescue in Five Parts
Big Cat Rescue was not allowed to film during the rescue, so what footage we did manage to get was from cell phones in pockets. Below is footage that looks much better than ours and details the rescue from JnK.
Above is the energy generated at Big Cat Rescue via solar panels from 6/28/12 until 3/16/16.
On 3/17/16 Big Cat Rescue joined Solar Coin in an effort to enable a new world economy that is based on everyone adopting clean, renewable energy. The fastest way to encourage people to change their behavior is to reward them for doing the right thing. Solar Coin makes that possible.
In addition to these planet friendly measures, Big Cat Rescue took it one step further on Fab. 8, 2015 when we partnered with Arcadia Power to make sure that ALL of the electricity used at our sanctuary and in our own homes and rental properties comes from wind and solar.
Big Cat Rescue – Solar projects were sponsored by:
The Body Shop Foundation, TECO, C1 Bank and the Little Foundation.
Philanthropic Media Organization Expands Community with Accredited Exotic Cat Sanctuary
Santa Monica, CA and Tampa, FL — December 3, 2015 — explore.org, the philanthropic media organization and media division of the Annenberg Foundation is welcoming a herd of big cats to its roster of live cams from around the world. Together with Big Cat Rescue, one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world and home to 90+ lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, bobcats, servals, caracals, ocelots and other wild cats, explore.org will broadcast the daily antics of big cats that have been rescued from poor conditions.
The cams were set up to serve as an educational tool for kids and adults alike, and will provide unprecedented access into the lives of some of the earth’s most revered and endangered animals.
explore.org has installed six cameras throughout the sanctuary, placed in strategic locations to give a diverse look at different breeds as they go about their lives in expansive, natural habitats. From the “Vacation Rotation” where cats get to experience a change of pace on two-week vacations, to feeding stations to the on site “cat hospital” where exams and surgeries are performed, the Big Cat Live cams will allow viewers to experience different aspects of the sanctuary and follow the cast of characters the non-profit tends to on a daily basis. Cams can be viewed at http://explore.org/bigcatrescue
In addition to fixed cameras, explore.org has enabled mobile capabilities so caretakers can voyage through the sanctuary and teach viewers about different behaviors and procedures that make the rescue such a special place.
Big Cat Rescue, which has saved more than 250 exotic cats who were previously kept as pets, discarded from zoos, or used as performing acts since its inception in 1992, will expand its vibrant digital community to include 24/7 coverage from various living facilities on the Tampa-based property. “If not for Big Cat Rescue, a lot of these animals would be dead or in dire conditions,” said Tom Pollak, co-founder of explore.org.
“We are so thankful to explore.org for working with us to showcase the daily routine at Big Cat Rescue,” said Carole Baskin, Founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue said. “Our fans have told us they just can’t get enough of their favorite cats, even though we produce several videos a week. The live webcams will enable our supporters to have 24/7 access to our big cats, rehabilitation bobcats and fostered domestic kittens they have come to know and love. Even more exciting is that we will be able to reach out to explore.org’s nature lovers and begin conversations on the plight of big cats and what they can do to protect them.”
explore.org is the largest producer of live nature content in the world, with over 100 cams installed in remote locations around the world. The big cat live cams join a roster of content that includes anything from wild Polar Bears, Brown Bears, Belugas, Orcas, Bison, Puffins and Osprey to an abundance of wildlife in African water holes to cams focused on service dogs being raised to help veterans in need.
“When people are inspired to fall in love with the world and its creatures, they are more likely to be better stewards of the planet,” said Charlie Annenberg, founder of explore.org and VP of the Annenberg Foundation
More on the Cats and Live Cams
Big Cat Rescue works with the local Humane Society of Tampa Bay to foster domestic kittens, from birth up to two pounds. These kittens have been rescued from the county shelters, and when they reach two pounds they are spayed, neutered and placed in permanent homes by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. The Kitten Cabana Cam will give a closer look at the adopted kittens, as they’re bottle fed and cared for at night, and brought to the Kitten Cabana during the day for socialization with other cats. This camera is sure to provide a cuteness overload.
The Vacation Rotation Cam is fixated on a 2.5 acre enclosure called the Vacation Rotation where each lion and tiger gets a two-week vacation out in the big play area (most of the big cats’ home habitats are 1200 square feet to half an acre). Look for cats by the pond, the cave, and on the platforms. Tune in regularly to see different cats taking it easy out here.
There will also be a Feeding Station Cam that is attached to the Vacation Rotation. Each lion and tiger gets a two-week vacation out in the big play area and this cam shows where they’re fed. Tune in regularly to see different cats dining.
Most of the cat are in their late teens and early 20’s. Due to their advanced ages, Big Cat Rescue does between 70-90 medical procedures a year. One of the live cameras is positioned directly above the operating table in the onsite Windsong Memorial Hospital. Never before has the public been able to observe cats like tigers, lions and leopards receiving vet care live as it happens. Fans can now sign up for text alerts, so they are notified the moment something is happening in the Windsong Memorial Hospital.
Another mission of the Big Cat Rescue is to rehabilitate native bobcats, and give them a second chance at living free after they have been shot, hit by cars, poisoned or orphaned. They get them ready for release back to the wild, help them learn, and regain the muscle strength necessary, to hunt, climb and run. One of the explore.org cameras will trained on the bobcat rehab area of the sanctuary, offering viewers never-before-seen views of these wild cats being prepared for release back into the wild.
The celebrity of the sanctuary is Nikita, the biggest lioness you will ever see! At close to 500 pounds, she is larger than most male lions. Nikita was seized in a drug raid, sent to a zoo, and then rescued by Big Cat Rescue. Her favorite spots are up on the platform and back in the bushes to the left of this enclosure. Viewers will be able to watch as Nikita is fed, given enrichment and has her enclosure cleaned by our dedicated keepers. Find out more about Nikita here.
More About explore.org: explore.org is a philanthropic media organization and a multi-media division of the Annenberg Foundation. Created by filmmaker and philanthropist Charles Annenberg Weingarten to champion the selfless acts of others, inspire lifelong learning and help people fall in love with the world again, explore.org is home to more than 300 original films and a massive library of world-class photography from all over the globe. In addition, explore.org recently launched Pearls of the Planet, a growing collection of live HD cameras that provide people with an unprecedented view into the lives of amazing animals and beautiful places around the world. As an advertising-free philanthropic media organization, explore.org prides itself on purity and regularly provides grants to organizations focused on improving the human condition and the planet.
More About Big Cat Rescue
Big Cat Rescue, one of the world’s largest accredited sanctuaries for exotic cats, is a leading advocate in ending the abuse of captive big cats and saving wild cats from extinction. The sanctuary is situated on 67 acres in the Citrus Park area of north Tampa, and home to over 90 lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars, servals and other species most of whom have been abandoned, abused, orphaned, saved from being turned into fur coats, or retired from performing acts.
Check out the live webcams at http://explore.org/bigcatrescue
Big Cat Rescue is the leading voice in the sanctuary community for the tens of thousands of lions, tigers, leopards and other exotic cats who are languishing in backyards, basements, circus wagons and shoddy tourist traps around the world. It is working to end the trade in big cats as pets, props and for their parts by reaching out through social channels to inspire action. With more than 1.7 million Facebook fans and more than 250,000 subscribers to their YouTube.com channel, their videos have had more than 120 million views.
Established in 1992 Big Cat Rescue has saved more than 250 exotic cats who were previously kept as pets, discarded from zoos and performing acts, or who came from the fur farming industry.
The Tampa based sanctuary currently houses 90+ lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, bobcats, servals, caracals, ocelots and other wild cats.
In addition to providing lifetime care for captive born exotic cats, Big Cat Rescue also rescues, rehabs and releases native bobcats. Big Cat Rescue works with the local Humane Society of Tampa Bay and to date has fostered more than 275 domestic cats and kittens. Big Cat Rescue works with field biologists, conservationists and wild cat experts around the world to protect these rare and endangered species.
Carole Baskin, Founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue said, “We are so thankful to Explore.org for partnering with us to showcase the daily routine at Big Cat Rescue. Our fans have told us they just can’t get enough of their favorite cats, even though we produce several videos a week. The live webcams will enable our supporters to have 24/7 access to the cats and kittens they have come to know and love. Even more exciting is that we will be able to reach out to Explore.org’s nature lovers and begin conversations on the plight of big cats and what they can do to protect them.”
Big Cat Rescue sends their cats on vacation! This area is a 2.5 acre enclosure called the Vacation Rotation. Each lion and tiger gets a two week vacation out in the big play area. (Most of the big cats home cages are 1200 square feet to half an acre each.) Favorite places to look for cats in here are the pond, the cave out in the distance and on the platforms. Tune in regularly because every two weeks you will see different cats.
Big Cat Rescue sends their cats on vacation! This feeding station is attached to a 2.5 acre enclosure called the Vacation Rotation. Each lion and tiger gets a two week vacation out in the big play area and this station is where they are fed. Tune in regularly because every two weeks you will see different cats.
Big Cat Rescue fosters domestic kittens from birth up to two pounds. These kittens have been rescued from the county shelters where they were turned in to be euthanized. When the kittens reach 2 pounds they are spayed, neutered and placed in permanent homes by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. The kittens are bottle fed and cared for by our onsite Interns at night and then brought to the Kitten Cabana during the day for socialization with other cats and our other Volunteers. If you see a kitten that you would like to adopt, please contact http://humanesocietytampa.org/