Big Cat Rescue doesn’t believe big cats should be bred for life in cages, but for those who had the misfortune of being bred in captivity, we offer the best habitats (or cat-a-tats as we like to call them) in the world. Our cat-a-tats are large (ranging from 1200 square feet to 2.5 acres) and full of natural foliage and man made platforms and dens that were built to satisfy a curious cat’s every desire. Most of our enclosures are roofed and are built with curving walls that provide the structural strength so it can be hard, from a single vantage point, to see how large our enclosures really are. All of our tigers have pools that are kept fresh via our spring fed lake.
19 of our enclosures front on Tiger Lake. Intern housing at far left and 8 cages along the bank under the arrow.
Each enclosure consists of two or more sections that are connected by a guillotine door that is left open, unless we have to lock a cat out of an area to go in and clean. Each section will have a lockout for feeding and water, a den, and a place where the cat can perch. Each enclosure has a safety entrance that consists of a double door system and keyed padlocks on both the inner and outer doors. All guillotine doors can be operated from outside. Our newer cages have been built with double galvanized, 5 gauge, 4×4 panels that do not require painting. Our earlier cages were built of galvanized, 6 gauge, 4×4 panels that do require painting every so often. The paint we use is Rustoleum, which is a rust brown colored paint, so close examination shows the cages to be in excellent condition, despite the color.
This video shows you how the cats easily navigate their mazes of connected enclosures and tunnels.
This video shows how our open air enclosures are built. All open air enclosures have roofed sections attached in case of high winds.
Big Cat Enclosures
Big Cats Don’t Belong in Cages
No big cat belongs in a cage, but until we have better laws to protect exotic cats from being bred for lives of captivity and deprivation, we need to give them as much space and privacy as possible. In their wild their territories would measure in square miles, not square feet, so even at its best a cage is nothing more than a jail cell.
Since all exotic cats, no matter how early they are neutered or spayed, spray bucket loads of urine all day you will want to provide an outdoor cage. Because we have so many cats we have many varieties of cages depending on the cats’ needs. We will begin with our favorite cages and proceed down to our minimum cages. USDA only requires that the animal be able to stand up and turn around in the pen and that it be clean. Some states have minimum size standards but they, like the USDA’s standards, are nothing short of cruel and inhumane. In Florida, a 600 pound, twelve foot long Siberian Tiger may be kept in a 10 foot by twenty four foot pen, and too many people do. Different cats have different needs, but ALL cats need the room and inspiration to be cats.
To successfully cage a cat you should understand his natural behaviors to most closely provide what he needs and to most safely confine him. Although individuals of several species may prowl by day, exotic cats are typically nocturnal. Except for Cheetahs, Lions and Tigers, the exotic feline is an exceptional climber. Servals and Caracals can climb well, but need incentive to do so. Margay, Ocelots and Leopards spend more time lounging in the trees than on the ground. Bobcats, Jungle Cats, Geoffrey Cats and all of the Lynxes are very active and are in and out of everything, all the time.
All cats swim if necessity demands it but Jaguars, Tigers, Servals and Fishing Cats live for it. Fishing cats and Servals will dive underwater for their food and although Tigers will dive, they usually prefer to “dog paddle” or just splash around in the water. Water loving cats will not be happy without a pool.
The behaviour of an exotic cat can be likened to that of the domestic cat on speed. All of this is said to prepare you to look around your home and envision the outdoor run as seen through the half crazed eyes of the exotic of your choice. The “tamed” wild cat does not discern between a tree and a hanging plant, or between vines and curtain rods. Your bubble bath or the fish tank are just as suitable “swimming holes” as a lake or stream. Exotic Cats urinate in the water, so you won’t want to leave dishes in the sink.
If you are building an enclosure for a pet that you have raised and who now is spraying everything in sight, the best option for the cat is an outdoor one that is at least 1200 square feet in size. The fencing should be twelve feet tall and made of six gauge chain welded cattle panels and completely roofed.
In these yards should be kiddie toys including wading pools, plastic forts, igloos, balls and safe shrubbery. Obviously, none of these plastic items are to be left unattended with the great cats. Except for the shrubbery everything else must be cleaned and disinfected regularly (like daily). A pool is great fun but a lot of work. It MUST be changed daily. Even the dirt will need “cleaning” and by this I mean that you will need to walk the yard daily and pick up feces, and on occasion you may need to lock the cats in the house for a few days and dust the yard with lime. Don’t return the cats to the dusted yard until after it has been washed off of the grass and leaves and into the soil.
We used to treat the cat yards twice a month for fleas, alternating between Bio-Halt Flea Nematodes and Sevin Dust 10 percent. Since our cats have been on Advantage this has not been necessary. We don’t mow the yard very often because the cats seem to really enjoy the jungle effect. Your neighbors may not share your appreciation of a Congo styled lawn scape, and this is something to consider. Keeping your neighbors happy can be what keeps you happy and this usually requires that they not be able to see, hear or smell your cats. In most cases you will be better off if they don’t even know about your cats. Having them for the purpose of showing off to your friends will probably mean that you will be asked to move or euthanize the pet one day.
For our Tigers we have a three acre pen that leads down into a spring fed lake. The fencing is 16 feet tall, six gauge (sometimes 5 gauge), four by six inch square welded wire. This pen has two eight foot square, concrete dens, and a safety pen for hurricanes, or so we can lock them up while cleaning their acreage. The safety pen is where we feed the cats so that they are accustomed to going inside. It is 900 square feet, with a top. When we clean the pen we coax them into the safety pen and shut them inside until we are finished. The safety pen must have a door that can be operated from outside. The safety pen and the safety gate are two separate enclosures. To include part of the lake in the Tiger pen we had to hire a dock and deck company to install the posts out in the water because it was fourteen feet deep in places. We hung the fence from the posts and attached shade cloth over that so that the cats would not swim out and hang on the wire. Inside the pen are stainless steel beer kegs, bowling balls (with the holes filled in) for toys and lots of shrubbery, initially… Palmettos are virtually indestructible and the yard was covered with them, but in just a few months they were trampled beyond recognition. We thought over an acre per Tiger would more than accommodate two yearling Tigers, but the foliage proves otherwise. The trees are all still standing but it was an established forest.
Most of our cages are 12 to 16 feet tall with a roof. They are built around trees so that the cats can get up into the lower branches. Their concrete den, which is eight feet by twelve feet, by 2 feet high and is covered with concrete to look like rock and earth for insulation so that they look like hills in each cage.Our Leopards have pens that are more than 1200 square feet per cat and twelve feet high.
We were fortunate enough to fall into a once in a lifetime deal in which we were able to purchase thirty three acres of concrete platforms. These platforms stand two feet off the ground on their own legs and come in eight foot, ten foot and twelve foot widths. They are all eight feet long and can be stacked side by side. These would not be cost efficient to build, but many people pour concrete slabs on the ground with a slope to the outside and a gutter to guide waste water to a septic system.
All of the pens have at trees, shelves or logs elevated for lounging on. We suspend natural cat-walks with chain from the top of the pen, at different levels, so that the feline has much more running space and to encourage exercising by jumping from one cat-walk to another. We also hang hammocks made of natural fibers for their lounging pleasure.
Each cage has a toy called the ” Nearly Indestructible Ball” in a size relevant to the size of the cat and a variety of large bleached cow bones. A cat can easily get stir crazy in a static environment, so it is important to always be offering something different to smell, taste or touch. Cats like having their own space and enjoy marking it and letting others know that it is theirs, but they also enjoy new things. Just like human children, they enjoy playing with the box the toy came in more than with the toy itself. Cut a few holes in the box and it’s good entertainment for a day or two. Oddly enough, the biggest thrill you can give most cats is a pile of cut branches. Check your poisonous plant list first and then your yard trimmings can provide hours of fun and exercise.
The entry door to the pen should be wide enough to accommodate your carriers or catch pens and tall enough for you to walk in without stooping. We use 4 snap hooks to keep them shut and a lock. You should also attach a safety gate to your entry gate. This is a small cage that you open the gate and walk into, and then shut the gate behind you before opening the gate to the pen. It should be large enough to accommodate two people and a large carrier or a wheel barrow, without having both doors open. At any juncture where you will be handling a latch or accessing a food or water dish, we would recommend that you cover the adjoining area with a small mesh wire. It can be very hard to fumble with a latch and keep your eyes on the cat at the same time. This is more necessary in the case where a cat has his claws. Even if the existing wire is too small for the entire paw to fit through, just one hook of their razor sharp claws could take off a finger.
We do not recommend adjoining cages that share a common wall. Often cats that like each other have been known to suffer a nasty bite for sticking their extremities through the wire. We saw a gorgeous black Leopard once whose tail had been so badly mauled that it had to be amputated.
Privacy can be as important as space. If at all possible provide lush foliage as a visual screen between animals. Space the cats as far apart as is practical. They are solitary creatures, except for the Lions, and really appreciate their own territory. Even most lions that you may end up caring for were probably single pets and will not want to be kept in cages with other lions.
Our cages are truly cat-a-tats, but because they are on the ground, the cats must be wormed monthly here and probably at least quarterly in colder climates.
For open top pens we use a double row of hot wire that is powered by a solar unit that can withstand three days of total darkness, and this has proved successful in keeping lions and tigers in place.
Big Cat Enclosures at Big Cat Rescue
Below are the new cage designs Vernon Stairs implemented. They are constructed of 6 gauge, galvanized, welded wire panels, twelve feet high, with roofs and are all in excess of 900 square feet and most in excess of 1200 square feet and many in excess of 2400 square feet. They all have safety entrances and are designed to shut off one half of the cage at a time so that the volunteers can safely clean one side with the cat locked out and then shift the cat to the other side to clean the remainder.
They all incorporate feed boxes with built in water dishes in which the cats can be shut to medicate, vaccinate or the whole unit can be removed as a transport cage to go to the vet or to evacuate in a hurricane. The water dishes are elevated to keep the cats from relieving themselves in the drinking water (as they will do).
Each cage has a sprinkler system and an underground, plastic den. The den is easy to clean and insulated against the elements. Each cage is heavily landscaped and has logs, trees, toys and perches to give the cat’s a feeling of safety.
This is one of our leopard cages and it is over 2400 square feet of floor space and is over twenty feet high as it encircles this tree. (Notice the silhouette of the black leopard, Jumanji in the center branches) This cage is typical of our leopard and cougar cages and includes all of the features outlined above. You can see the wire in the distant back ground and the white door to his feeding area. This photo was taken from safely outside the cage, but due to the four by four openings the shot can look as though you were inside.
The cage at right is the Snow Leopard cage when it was being built and includes a freezer box den that is air-conditioned and cleverly disguised as snowy rock covered ledges. The cats can lay in the cool of their dens and look out at passerby’s. The curvature of the wire makes posts and support beam unnecessary once the cage is completed and enables the viewer to focus on the animal and not on the cage.
Across the top you can see the wire supports used to bridge the 20 feet spanning the roofs. Note the full size ladder in the background to get a feel for the size of the cage. The rock work is concrete over metal lathe. In some cages the rock work has waterfalls, dripping down into fish filled ponds.
Many of our Cat-A-Tats include ponds and waterfalls. All of our many tigers have pools, ponds and waterfalls as did the Fishing Cats.
With a donation of $10,000.00, earmarked for cage construction, you can have a sign placed on the cage telling the world that you helped build the Cat-A-Tat. This is great advertising for your business or corporation and greatly helps these magnificent cats.
Here is where we get the only hog ring pliers that work: http://www.reddenmarine.com/pacific-mako-9000-wf-555-0-hog-ring-pliers.html
Lions and Tigers
240 square feet
1200- 136,000 sf
Leopards, Jaguars, Cougars
200 square feet
1200-6000 square feet
Lesser cats (Lynx, etc.)
72 square feet
1200-2400 square feet
Small cats (hybrid cats, etc.)
36 square feet
1000 -2000 square feet
USDA only requires that the cage be large enough for the animal to stand up and turnaround in and a lot of states use the USDA standard rather than set standards of their own.
When you visit the zoo and see those magnificent million dollar enclosures, what you don’t see are all the animals in tiny, off exhibit cages. If animals must live in captivity, the least we can do is make them comfortable.
On 12/2/2013 we launched a campaign on LoveAnimals.org called Give Natasha Open Space. By 3/14/2014 it was “fully” funded at $30,000. That was based on our erroneous understanding of the rules in Florida when it comes to open top cages. Turns out you can put a lion, or a tiger, or a cougar in an open top cage, but not a bobcat, serval, lynx, sandcat, Geoffroy cat, caracal, ocelot or any of the leopard family. Our intention had been to build a smaller duplicate of the Vacation Rotation enclosure for the smaller cats, using the same design. Our plans were foiled when we discovered the FWC language would not permit it, although it didn’t say that; it just didn’t say you could, so upon further investigation we learned we couldn’t. Another strange thing happened, in 2015, which was that we were absolutely under siege by black vultures.
Unlike turkey vultures, black vultures will attack and kill living animals. Both are a protected species in FL so we couldn’t get rid of them. If we were going to create a safe space for our smaller cats to run, it was going to have to have a roof; both by law and because of the birds.
It’s a weird phenomenon of massive numbers of vultures showing up un expectedly. We guard the cats’ food while they eat, so we don’t know what the attraction is, but we have to protect the cats, and thus have gone through a number of cage redesigns to make sure this will be a fun spot for the cats…and safe.
Before we knew that leopards were not going to be able to use our Vacation Rotation area we had begun construction on Leopard Island. The idea was to refurbish all of the cages in an area where we could tunnel them out to the vacay area. The area is surrounded on all sides by paths, and thus dubbed an island, despite the lack of any water feature.
Building out this Leopard Island would also give us cage space to remove leopards (Jade and Armani) who live in the area where the Small Cat Fun enclosure was to be built. Their cages were old, but salvageable, as part of the new complex, but it’s a lot easier to work on a cage when it doesn’t contain a top level predator.
Earlier this month (July 2015) Jade, Armani and Cheetaro were the last of the leopards to be relocated to Leopard Island so that the ground work could begin in earnest for the Small Cat Fun area.
Beginning Small Cat Fun Construction
There had been a massive fire at the property, back in the 1990’s, where we had to dig huge chunks of earth out to save the cats, and those big ruts all had to be filled and leveled out. The dirt that was purchased had a lot of junk in it, which meant volunteers had to sift through all of it to be sure that nothing would be left behind to hurt the cats.
We made the area about 1/3 bigger than we had planned and had to trim 20+ trees up to the 12 foot high level so that we will be able to roof around them.
We had to tear down the old parts of the enclosure, and one other cage, to ensure that everything will line up correctly and put the old wire into use as barricades. Those barricades had to go up right away, because if we just left the wire on the ground until we finished the Small Cat Fun area, it would rust and we would have squandered a lot of money.
There is much landscaping work to be done in order to work the tunnels through the thick undergrowth behind the existing, empty cages. In order to make the most of work groups who come out for a day, we have marked out the path and have the groups who come in for a day of labor take on that project. They usually only come on week ends, but we try to save those kinds of projects for outsiders as they are least likely to come too close to a big cat. We reserve our own, well trained volunteers and interns for the more dangerous areas of work.
We now have the bottom row of wire up on the East and most of the North sides of the cage, but there will be two more rows of wire atop this one, as this is only 5 feet high. It is the basis of setting the shape of the cage to be sure we have enough curves to keep it strong in a hurricane. It rains every day, but we do strive to make progress on the Small Cat Fun cage every day. Most of the work up until now has been the sort of thing that hasn’t been very interesting, for the purpose of follow up stories, but now you can actually see the progress.
Looking East down current tour path. This enclosure will span across the road, so the road and the ditches will have to be re routed to the right.
These trees and grassy areas will be in the front of the Small Cat Fun area when it is completed, but can be added in the second stage.
The covered den and feeding areas, along with the safety entrance have all been started at the South end of the Small Cat Fun space.
Standing on the tour path and looking West. The Small Cat Fun cage will eventually include the property to the left in the photo, once we re route the road and ditches.
These little bricks play a huge role in making sure the entire cage, spanning all of this space, it level. The gaps will be filled with pieces of wire that will be cut to follow the terrain.
Meanwhile, it rains every day, so we are constantly being pulled off this fun project to make sure our cats are above the latest level of flooding.
The Lion Ark movie is opening at the film festivals and this is your chance to be one of the first to see the “feel good movie of the year”!
More action adventure style than traditional documentary, Lion Ark tells the story of the undercover investigations, the lobbying, the law and enforcement of the ban on animal circuses in Bolivia. Circuses that defy the new law are tracked down, animals saved and a joyous finale sees 25 lions airlifted to freedom.
This is a hugely important film for raising awareness about the suffering of animals in traveling circuses and it shows how laws can be enforced. And for a change, the animals win!
Early reviews say:“Lion Ark is the feel-good movie of the year!” (Reel Talk); “one of your must-see films of 2013” (The Independent Critic); “A consciousness-raising milestone of a documentary” (The Ecologist); “will restore some faith in humanity.” (Shockya.com); “A deeply important film about bravely taking a stand against animal cruelty.” (FatFreefilm). Read more Lion Ark reviews
All Lion Ark screenings will be followed by Q&A sessions with the rescue team and filmmakers – so I look forward to seeing you there!
Jan Creamer President
Lions and Tigers in Lebanon Need Homes
We are looking for possible placement with you of two adult lions and two adult tigers that we are in the process of removing form a private zoo.
A wildlife vet from France has seen these animals about two years ago to vaccinate and provide care advice. This zoo had a cheetah and third tiger which have since died.
The leader of the political group from that area helped in convincing the owner to give up a chimpanzee in 2012, and we were informed a couple days ago that he is ready to give up the lions and tigers and be done with exotic animals.
Previously we sent lions to the Drakenstein sanctuary near Capetown but they do not have available space at this time. I have contacted the European Association of Rescue Centers and Born Free Foundation but still no definite ‘yes’ for any sanctuary.
You posted earlier about these lions we rescued some years ago – http://bigcatrescue.org/rescue-of-lion-cub-in-beirut-puts-spotlight-on-illegal-animal-trade/
I was hoping you might have some possibilities even if not all animals go to the same sanctuary.
We will cover all costs to get them to the nearest international airport, and have no problem arranging the necessary permits and vet procedures. I am attaching a picture of the two lions and am trying to go on the weekend to get pictures of the tigers and check the health.
There is no real rush as the animals are there and secure enough, but it does start raining in October and November which makes it more difficult as it is at the bottom of a deep valley with gravel and dirt path. We will need to move each animal up this path separately in the back of a pickup truck.
Thank you for your consideration and please let me know if I can provide any other information that would help.
+961 1 751 678
Note: We referred him to our friends in Spain and Africa from AAP but they are full as well. Right now there are 3 cougars and 5 lynx looking for a home and more calls every day as the bad guys try to unload their breeders before new laws ban them from breeding for pay to play schemes.
Howard Tries Film Making
Vern, Chuck and Scott using a lift to place the roof on our safety entrance and lock out areas of the Vacation Rotation cage. Nice job Howie. Note: Turn your camera on its side to get the right screen fill.
We are delighted to announce that the world premiere of Lion Ark – the film about how Bolivia’s circus industry was closed down, all the animals saved and 29 lions were airlifted to sanctuaries in the United States – is in London on 1st October.
Lion Ark has been officially selected to screen at Raindance, Europe’s largest independent film festival. Tickets go on sale today and numbers will be limited.
Lion Ark – World Premiere
Tuesday, 1 October 4pm
With special introduction by actor Brian Blessed
Vue Piccadilly (Apollo), 19 Lower Regent Street, London SW1Y 4LR
Buy tickets nowon 08712 240242
Lion Ark has been made in more of an action adventure style to appeal to a wide audience. But in this documentary, the animals win. It will leave you smiling. It is also a huge opportunity to raise awareness about the suffering of animals in circuses, but the audience will be kept interested in the story, while they learn the reasons not to visit the animal circus. We need your help for this important launch to get Lion Ark out to the public.
What reviewers have been saying about Lion Ark:
“one of your must-see films of 2013..”
The Independent Critic
“Lion Ark is the feel-good movie of the year!”
“A consciousness-raising milestone of a documentary”
Nikki McQueen To Discuss The Passing Of A Pet, The Grief, Impact on The Family, More In Advance of Forum Tied to National Pet Memorial Day
My guest Sept. 4 on “Talking Animals”–airing 9am to 10am ET on Tampa NPR affiliate WMNF (88.5 FM)–will be Nikki McQueen, vice-president of Anderson-McQueen Funeral Homes And Cremation Tribute Center, based in St. Petersburg, FL.
Vern and Chuck Stairs connect Kanawha’s old cage to Jade and Armani Leopards’ cat a tat.
Nothing is ever easy!
We are building this wonderful, 2.5 acre Vacation Rotation enclosure for our cats to take turns in, and creating a tunnel system to move tigers from all across the road to get them to the new spot when we come to Bengali Tiger’s cat-a-tat. Bengali is ancient and suffers from arthritis, so his open top cage is sufficient to hold him, but it stands between the younger, stronger tigers and the new Vacation Rotation acreage.
We had been discussing an internal tunnel, across his cage, or roofing his cage, but that area is 48 feet by 120 feet, so no roofing system that we have ever used can span that kind of distance. We ran a number of designs up and down the flag pole, but any modification to the cage will be as expensive and probably more difficult than what we ultimately decided;
Tear it down and start over.
Those words didn’t come easily; but in the long run, to make the cage usable for all tigers, young or old, that’s going to be the best bet. The new area will still be 48 x 120 but will be a 15 foot high, straight wall up, with a five foot, 45 degree cantilever at the top. We think we can complete it in about two or three weeks and will have an enclosure that can house any of our cats.
During the renovation Bengali Tiger will move over to the tiger enclosure between Bella and Alex Tigers. That should be pretty exciting for all three of those Tigers and TJ will likely find it to be intriguing even though he is on the other side of Bella. This is an expense that we had not calculated into the $200,000 cost of the 2.5 ac Vacation Rotation enclosure, but we knew we would have to do something to make it “tiger proof.” This way we get a lot more use out of the space for any of our big cats to enjoy.
You can help us make all of these cage expansions possible by donating here: