Big Cat Rescue Hands On Training

Big Cat Rescue Hands On Training

Big Cat Rescue Hands On Training




Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, FL is the world’s largest sanctuary in the world for abused, abandoned and orphaned wild cats (lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats etc.) accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries (GFAS).

The mission of the sanctuary is to provide the best home we can to the animals in our care and to end abuse of big cats in captivity and avoid extinction in the wild  We do this by educating the world about the plight of these wild cats both in captivity, where the vast majority are kept in inhumane conditions, and in the wild, where they face extinction due largely to poaching, habitat loss and animal/human conflict.

The sanctuary houses 13 different species of wild cat, more than any other facility in the world.  The sanctuary is held out by GFAS and generally viewed as the model not only for animal care but also for responsible, efficient financial and operational management and particularly for its extensive educational programs.  The latter are devoted to building awareness of the plight of wild cats


Training Program


A critical part of our education efforts is our training program.  Trainees can come for up to a year.  They live on property and are immersed in our philosophy, procedures and management techniques.  The sanctuary has 14 paid staff who handle the administrative responsibilities and supervise the trainees.

The primary purpose of the training program is to train individuals on how animal care across this uniquely broad array of species should be done safely and in a way that provides a truly humane existence.  There is extensive rigorous class training that the trainees must progress through during their stay.  Then, as they become qualified, the trainees are given increasing levels of hands on experience.

The hands on training experience is absolutely critical to obtaining safe future employment as a keeper of these dangerous animals. Much like a commercial airline pilot should not be hired to fly a large jet based on classroom training; keepers should not be hired to care for these incredibly dangerous animals without extensive hands on training.  The number of keeper deaths, lost limbs and other serious injuries is an unfortunate testimony to the lack of training.  Big Cat Rescue provides a curriculum and intensity of experience that is not available anywhere else in the world.  The level of hands on experience demonstrating the ability to apply the classroom learning safely and responsibly over a sufficient period of time is critical to the credential we provide to a trainee as a qualified keeper.

The training program is not solely for the benefit of the trainees and the future employment prospects.  It is a critical part of our mission to impact many more animals than we can care for at our location.  The trainees become in effect “missionaries” who take with them the philosophy and procedures we teach for humane care.  They then question the substandard practices they find at other facilities and become catalysts for improved care at those facilities. This is a vivid contrast to people who are hired at a substandard facility and end up believing that what they experience there is acceptable.


International Trainees


Many of our requests to enter the training program originate overseas.  There simply is no other training program like ours anywhere in the world, and particularly not outside the US.  But there are facilities all around the world that house big cats who need care. Our training program provides these international trainees with a unique, world renowned credential that makes them highly qualified for jobs back in their home countries.




We have an Operations Manager who oversees all of the animal care and property maintenance.  On most days we also have a Coordinator who assigns tasks, at other times the Operations Manager is the Coordinator.  Their primary role is to supervise the trainees.  Every day trainees are assigned to specific tasks that vary during the day and the Operations Manager and/or Coordinator supervise and check their progress and provide one on one or sometimes group guidance as needed.  We also have a Training Manager whose responsibilities include taking applications, filtering for those of interest, interviewing (along with the Operations Manager who also interviews separately), tracking and making sure the trainees get their classes and range of hands on experience during their training period here, and being the primary contact person for any issues any individual trainees have. Our trainees do not replace any of our existing staff and they do not fill any of our existing positions. They are supervised / trained throughout their tenure at Big Cat Rescue.


Class Training


Below is a list of the classes offered during the program.  In many cases the classes are progressive, i.e. requiring completion of one or more other classes before one can be taken.  In this way the learning evolves over time and we can gear the class structure to the length of the training.

The classes fall into a number of categories of training.


Animal care. The cat care training is primary.  This includes:

– cage cleaning.

– feeding – this is a much far more involved process than the word indicates because there are complex charts showing the individualized nutrition requirements for each cat depending on species, age and medical needs.

– administering medication

– assisting with advance medical procedures like transporting cats on and off site for medical tests or procedures and assisting with and observing surgeries.

– constant observing for any medical issues.  In the wild, cats who show infirmity become prey.  So they are extremely good at hiding injuries and illness.  The observation process requires knowledge of species specific behaviors and the ability to observe any changes in eating, stool, motion or habits.


Educating the public. Other classes involve learning to teach others, again a critical part of the sanctuary mission.  Trainees learn how to give 90 minute tours that include the specific histories of the individual cats, information about each of the 13 species, and the challenges each species face in captivity and in the wild. These challenges vary widely by species.  In captivity they range from tigers bred incessantly to be used for cub petting and then discarded to lion meat served as an exotic food.  In the wild they range from tigers poached for their parts to panthers in Florida having their habitat increasingly diminished and their natural pattern of roaming disrupted creating small groups with insufficient genetic diversity to survive.


Sanctuary management.  Running a successful sanctuary involves more than animal care. It involves understanding sanctuary finances and significant amounts of facility maintenance that needs to be done safely.  Our CFO gives a class on financial management and the trainees receive training in some of the donor relations practices that have made us successful.


Hands On Training




LEVEL 1 Training Program and Certifications:


Level 1 Keeper Trainee: A Level 1 onsite trainee may become a Keeper Trainee only after performing Partner Trainee program for an initial period of time to be determined by the Operations Manager. Keeper Trainees are considered a probationary level. A trainee serving at this level will train under the direct supervision of a ranking volunteer. Keeper Trainee program may include feeding and care of omnivores and live prey rats, sorting produce, cleaning small cat enclosures (Geoffrey Cats to Siberian Lynx), assisting animal feeders, guest sign in, serving as a tour back up for day tours and kid’s tours, gift shop assistant, data entry, housekeeping, landscaping, domestic cat care, daily chores, perimeter checks, and miscellaneous projects.


Level 1 Keeper Trainee Classes and Certifications (Timeline only a guideline, may vary):


Day 1: Orientation

Week 1: Tour Back Up, Gate Operation, and Guest Sign In, Human First Aid

Week 2: Animal Emergency, Animal Observation, Kids Tour Guide and Certification

Week 3: Tour Guide and Certification, Cleaning Small Cats, Red Level Quarantine Cleaning

Week 4: Events


After the completion of Week 4 and the successful completion of all of the Keeper Trainee Classes the Keeper Trainee will advance to Level 1 Keeper level.  The trainee will be required to complete all certifications for Kids Tour Guide, Tour Guide, and Small Cat Cleaning prior to the end of the onsite trainee program.


Level 1 Keeper: Keeper training activity may include Beginner Trainee tasks, feeding small cats (Geoffrey Cats to Siberian Lynx), red level enrichment and red level 1 (click and treat with small cats) operant with small cats, leading projects, and training others. A minimum of one night tour must be observed during the Level 1 onsite trainee period and documented on the Night Tour Guide Certification sheet.


Level 1 Training Program and Certifications:


Week 5: Small Cat Feeding Class and Certification in one feeding section, Enrichment Class and Red Level Certification, Operant Training Class and Red Level 1 Certification


LEVEL 2 Training Program and Certifications:


Level 2 Keeper: The Level 2 onsite trainee program is reserved for returning trainees who showed exceptional skill and ability as a Level 1 onsite trainee. Acceptance into this program is contingent upon the unanimous agreement of our selection committee. Level 2 Keeper trainee program may include Level 1 refresher, cougar cleaning, yellow level enrichment, red level 2 (basic commands with small cats) operant, participate in feeding tours, leading animal husbandry tasks and projects, and ensuring maintenance of onsite trainee housing. A minimum of one night tour must be observed during the Level 2 onsite trainee period and documented on the Night Tour Guide Certification sheet.


Level 2 Keeper Classes and Certifications:

Cougar Cleaning, Yellow Level Quarantine Cleaning Certification, Small Cat Feeding Certification in a second feeding section, Feeding Tour Guide and Certification (speaking portion), Yellow Level Enrichment Certification, Red Level 2 Operant Certification


LEVEL 3 Training Program and Certifications:


Level 3 Senior Keeper: The Level 3 onsite trainee program is reserved for returning onsite trainees who showed outstanding skill and ability as a Level 2 trainee. Acceptance into this program is contingent upon the unanimous agreement of our selection committee. Level 3 Keeper trainee training may include Level 1 and Level 2 refresher tasks, big cat cleaning, green level enrichment, red level 3 (advanced commands with small cats) and yellow level 1 & 2 operant (click and treat and basic commands with cougars), and participate keeper tours. A minimum of one night tour must be observed during the Level 3 onsite trainee period and documented on the Night Tour Guide Certification sheet.  Each household will be assigned one House Leader who is either a Level 3 or 4 trainee.  The House Leader will be responsible for; giving new trainees the Kitten Nursing Class within their first week, overseeing all of the foster kitten care in their house, serving as the main contact with the Foster Kitten Program Manager, and communicating housing needs and issues with the Operations Manager.


Level 3 Senior Keeper Classes and Certifications:

Big Cat Cleaning, Green Level Quarantine Cleaning Certification, Small Cat Feeding Certification in a third feeding section, Green Level Enrichment Certification, Red Level 3 Operant Certification, Yellow Level 1 & 2 Operant Certification, Keeper Tour Guide and Certification (speaking portion)


LEVEL 4 Training Program and Certifications:


Level 4 Senior Keeper: The Level 4 onsite trainee program is reserved for returning onsite trainees who stood out as the best of the best and showed excellent skill and ability as a Level 3 trainee. Acceptance into this program is contingent upon the unanimous agreement of our selection committee. Level 4 Keeper trainee program may include Level 1, 2, and 3 refresher, big cat feeding, participate in night tours, green level 1 & 2 operant (click and treat and basic commands with big cats), and assisting with meds preparation and administration.


Level 4 Senior Keeper Classes and Certifications:

Big Cat Feeding and Certification, Green Level 1 & 2 Operant Certification, Night Tour Guide and Certification, Meds Administration


LEVEL 5 Training Program and Certifications:


Level 5 Senior Keeper: The Level 5 onsite trainee program is reserved for returning trainees who stood out as the best of the best and showed excellent skill and ability as a Level 4 onsite trainee. Acceptance into this program is contingent upon the unanimous agreement of our selection committee. Level 5 Keeper trainee curriculum may include Level 1, 2, 3, & 4 refresher training, administering medications (minimum of 4 times per month), coordinating keeper trainees and trainees (minimum 2 days per week), special project assignment, and hospitalized animal care.  The duration of the Level 5 onsite trainee program is 52 weeks, which includes 14 vacation days. The training schedule for Level 5 onsite trainees is 5 days a week serving a minimum of 48 hours per week.  A grant of up to $1,500 for airfare will be awarded to each trainee that is accepted as a Level 5 trainee to cover the cost of transportation to return for the onsite trainee program.


Level 5 Senior Keeper Classes and Certifications:

Meds Administration Certification, Coordinator Training and Certification, Hospitalized Animal Care Class




A trainee may apply for advancement to the next level onsite trainee program or to be accepted into the onsite trainee program by submitting an application for graduation via email to the Committee.  Applications can be found on the site. The trainee should apply for advancement prior to the end of the current onsite trainee program only after having completed all of the required classes of that onsite trainee program level.  Certifications do not have to be completed prior to applying for graduation, but are required to be completed prior to the end of the current onsite trainee program.

The Committee will consult with the appropriate Coordinators and Operations Manager as well as fellow trainees to receive feedback on the applicants overall performance within the program.  If the Coordinator or Operations Manager are not confident in the applicant’s current abilities the Committee will take this into advisement and may speak with and encourage the applicant to focus on sharpening these specific skills in question and then reapply for graduation after a designated period of time established by the Committee.  The Coordinator and Operations Manager will also be advised to monitor the applicant’s improvements over the designated period of time after which the Committee, the Coordinator and Operations Manager will reevaluate the application for graduation.

If 3 months or less transpires between the end of the current onsite trainee Level and the beginning of the next onsite trainee Level, the trainee will move forward with the advanced training upon their return.  Depending on circumstances it may be required for the trainee to spend a brief amount time refreshing themselves with the particulars of previous onsite trainee program before advancing.

No more than a maximum of 6 months may transpire between the end of the current onsite trainee Level and the beginning of the next onsite trainee Level.  If 3-6 months transpires between Levels, the trainee will be required to; complete all of the training classes of the previous onsite trainee Level(s) and half of the required certifications for each class as well as spend the first 4 weeks of the onsite trainee Level performing the previous onsite trainee program(s) details.  At week 5 the trainee will then be able to advance in their training.

Today at Big Cat Rescue Nov 28 2013 Happy Thanksgiving

Today at Big Cat Rescue Nov 28 2013 Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving 2013

Check Out All Our Free Thanksgiving Games, Cards, Puzzles

and More Fun at


Make it Stop!



Our neighbor’s kids began shooting paintballs at our cats when they were 12.  With your help we spent thousands of dollars to put up a wall to protect the cats.  Now they shoot shotguns and rifles next to the cats for hours at a time, almost every day.  Surely there is some sort of noise abatement law in Hillsborough County that can make them stop.  Your donations can help us buy up the land around us to stop this harassment.


Interns-make-Thanksgiving-feast-for-big-cats-2 Interns-make-Thanksgiving-feast-for-big-cats


Even though Big Cat Rescue is closed on Thanksgiving, our volunteers still come in to feed and clean the cats.

Cat Chat 29

Meet the Interns & Volunteers of Big Cat Rescue


Today Carole Baskin will pop in on the Interns and Volunteers at lunch time to talk with them about their experiences here including the recent Halloween Party, and the release of Khaleesi the bobcat.



InternGet the audio version here or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Join us at noon, EST here:

See previous episodes of Cat Chat




Today at Big Cat Rescue Sept 20 2013

Today at Big Cat Rescue Sept 20 2013

Interns Make Paw Casts from Cat Prints

Interns make paw casts Interns make paw casts Interns make paw casts Interns make paw casts Interns make paw casts


Plaster Track Casting Procedure


Find a track to cast. This may sound easy, but good clear prints can be difficult to find. Look in soft mud near water sources, damp sand, and other such easy surfaces to find tracks in. Once you have found your track, you may want to remove any leaves or sticks that have fallen into it. Do this carefully and do not attempt to remove sticks or leaves that are compressed into the track. Removing these will damage the track. You can remove them from the plaster later.

What you need to make plaster casts: Plaster of Paris (or dental stone), mixing container, water, paper clip, cardboard strip. If you are near a water source, you may not need to carry water with you. Also, you may not need the cardboard strip, although it is recommended to make a thick cast, especially when using plaster of Paris, which can break and needs the extra thickness to make a more sturdy cast. You can also add dry twigs, wire, or string to the plaster cast to reinforce it. If you use dental stone, you will not need to reinforce the cast as dental stone has a higher compressive strength than plaster of Paris. Less dental stone is needed to make a cast of the same size. Although dental stone seems more expensive, the fact that you use less per cast means it costs probably about the same as plaster.

Use your cardboard strip to build a wall around the track. Hold it in place with the paper clip. Be careful not to damage the track when you place this around it. Gently press the strip into the surrounding soil so the plaster will not run out from under it when poured.

Now mix the plaster. You should use about two parts plaster to one part water. For example, two cups of plaster mixed with one cup water. The consistency should be like that of pancake batter, or thick motor oil. It is recommended that you add the plaster to the water and begin mixing immediately. Plaster begins to set as soon as it comes in contact with water, so work quickly. If you use pre-measured quantities, add the plaster to the water all at one time, and begin stirring immediately, this will give you the best results. Stir it for 3 to 5 minutes and get rid of all the lumps.

Always tap the mixing container on the ground to remove any bubbles that may have accumulated in the mixture. This will give you a higher quality cast. You will see the bubbles rise to the surface.

Carefully pour the plaster into your pre-prepared mold. Do not pour the plaster directly into the track as this can damage it. Pour the plaster onto the ground next to the track and allow it to run into the track. Start with the finer details, such as claw marks, first. An alternative method is to pour the plaster onto a spatula or spoon held low over the print and let it run off into the track. The utensil takes the force of the falling plaster, rather than the fragile track. Make sure you fill in all details of the track with plaster. Pour it relatively thick to make a good strong cast. This is the time to add and reinforcing materials such as string, wire, or twigs. Once you have finished pouring, let the track set for at least 1/2 hour. Some types of plaster may take longer to set.

As the plaster dries, it will go from a glossy wet appearance to a dull matte appearance. It will give off heat as the chemical reaction takes place. After about 1/2 hour, you can gently touch the surface of the cast to see if it is dry or still soft. Do not press too hard as you could crack the cast. If it is dry, you can try tapping it gently with your knuckles. If it is firm and has a ceramic ring to it, then it is safe to pick up the cast. Pick it up by reaching underneath it and lifting it. Do not lift by prying under it with a stick. This could crack it. Try to lift it from opposite edges. If it is cast in mud, the mud may hold it firmly You may need to carefully dig out some of the mud or soil from beneath the cast before lifting it.

Allow it to dry for several days before cleaning it or painting it. Never wrap plaster casts in plastic bags as this prevents the moisture from escaping. When you clean a plaster cast, do not scrub too hard with a brush as this will erode away the plaster and take the details of the track with it. Plaster is soft and will eventually dissolve if left immersed in water. The best way to clean casts is holding them under running water and gently rubbing excess dirt away. Do not rub over the details of the track itself, but rather the areas around it. Scrubbing on the details of the track may sand them off. There will be some dirt or sand remaining on the cast. This is normal. If you use dental stone, you can scrub the cast and not lose detail as it is a much stronger material.

Tip for making great casts.

Do not add more plaster or water to the mixture if it begins to set up before you finish pouring all your tracks. Adding to the mixture will cause your casts to come out chalky and fragile. These casts are so soft, you cannot clean them. They tend to fall apart very easily.

Plaster of Paris has a shelf life. If the plaster you use is very old , it may not set up properly, leaving you a chalky and very fragile cast. These break very easily and are difficult to clean as they can disintegrate in water. Also, older plaster takes longer to set up.

Adding a small amount of salt to the mixture will speed up the setting of the plaster.

Adding a small amount of vinegar to the mixture will slow down the setting up of the plaster.

However, adding either vinegar or salt can change the composition of the plaster, making the resulting cast a little softer than a normal cast. If you need the plaster to harden up faster and are not worried about the quality of the cast, use salt.

If you are casting a print in fine dry dust, you may need to make the mixture a little more runny so the weight of the plaster doesn’t destroy the fine details of the track. In this case, let it set up longer.

If you need to make a cast in snow, there is a product called Snow Print Wax that can be sprayed into the track to make a shell before the plaster is poured in. However, the ‘shell’ of this cast is very soft, as it is wax, rather than plaster. The wax shell can melt if left in the sun. It is also easy to scratch this soft material. It will pick up very fine detail, but this is not always necessary for most animal tracks. If you do not need the fine details, then don’t worry about the wax melting off or being scratched. Snow Print Wax will work just fine and will allow you to make a cast that couldn’t be made with just plaster alone due to the heat given off by the reaction.

Casts in moist environments may take longer to set up. Casts made in very dry environments may set up faster.

If you do not need to pick up the track cast right away, leaving it to harden longer is always a good idea. If you are on a trail and will be passing back the same way, you might consider picking the track up on your way out.

If you must wrap a cast in order to protect it while you transport it, always use paper. Never use plastic bags. Paper towels, paper bags, and newspaper all work, although newsprint can stain your cast.

Use care when pouring plaster into very fine details, such as tiny claw marks. Bubbles can develop in those areas, incompletely filling the details.

You can make a cast without the cardboard form by just overflowing the edges of the track. Make sure to make the back of the cast thick so it will not break easily.

If you are in the field and do not have the cardboard strip, you can use mud or soil to build up walls around the track to contain the plaster. This is especially useful for casting tracks on a slope.

Never leave your cast soaking in water. Plaster will begin to soften in water. Dental stone casts may be left in water longer.

Dental stone can be used to cast a print that is immersed in water, or that has standing water in it. Allow the material to set up for at least an hour in this case.

When mixing plaster, mix only as much as you will be able to use before it sets up. If you are making more than one track, remember to always thoroughly wash all utensils and mixing containers between batches of plaster. The residue of partially hardened plaster in the mixing container will affect the chemical composition of the new mixture and cause the plaster to set up incorrectly. This will always result in a soft chalky cast. This is why it is important to wash away all traces of the previous mixture from your tools.

When your cast has had several days to cure, you my paint it. Do not paint every surface and completely seal it. Moisture must still be allowed to escape the cast. It is best to paint only the details of the track.

Dental stone is a superior casting material. If you are going to invest a lifetime in learning tracking and want to have the highest quality casts, I would recommend investing in dental stone. It is much harder than plaster, retains much finer detail, can be cleaned easier, can be scrubbed without eroding, and is durable and strong. It does not require reinforcement as does plaster. Other types of gypsum cements include hydrostone, hydrocal, and die stone.

Do not use hobby plaster, modeling plaster, molding plaster, or patching cement.

Plaster casting can be fun and easy. It is also inexpensive. Enjoy your time outdoors and learn all you can about tracks and tracking. You may not see the animals, but you will know they have been there when you find their tracks, which are their signatures on the landscape.