2018 Outreach Department Annual Report
In this fast developing world, every day brings new innovations in the way we communicate and connect. Online resources and apps allowed Big Cat Rescue to reach more students across the country and the globe in 2018, increasing our number of distance learning programs.
We participated in phone and live video interviews with students from Palestine, Australia, Canada, England, Belgium, New Mexico, and from many U.S. states. Overall, we collaborated with nearly 100 students or student groups on their big cat related projects. Here are some highlights:
Big Cat Rescue’s Director of Outreach was invited to present to Wild Tiger’s Youth Council Workshop. Youth Council is a 9-month mentorship program for undergraduate science-students that aims to develop students with skills to build conservation leadership amongst youth and provide a support network for continued growth. Jennifer highlighted issues of big cats in captivity and the dangerous relationship between big cats bred for exploitation in the U.S. and those poached from the wild for the illegal trade in parts. She was invited to follow up on this topic with a guest article titled Helping Captive Tigers To Protect Wild Tigers, published on Wild Tiger’s blog in July.
Jennifer worked with a graduate student from Sweden on her study of alternatives to zoos and captive environments and was a guest lecturer on the topic of captivity and stereotypic behaviors via a video presentation for Biology students at Brown University.
The advanced Television Production students at Tenoroc High School in Lakeland, FL chose Big Cat Rescue for one of their monthly on-location shows. The class filmed their morning announcements at the sanctuary as well as segments on white tigers, cub petting, and our on-site kitten foster program. Check out the purrfect show at this link.
The sanctuary hosted a group of educators in town for the National Humane Education Conference at the sanctuary for a tour and discussion on how humane education can incorporate captive wildlife issues.
This year Big Cat Rescue joined the Nepris community as an industry expert. Nepris connects K-12 classrooms to professionals to expand students’ career exposure and bring real-world relevance to learning. Using Nepris virtual sessions, we’re able to live stream to dozens of students who are often in underserved and otherwise inaccessible populations in a single 45-minute session. In our first year, we connected with 393 students from 17 classrooms located in Kentucky, Florida, Texas, Georgia, and several places in Louisiana and California. We also received a lot of great feedback from teachers about our presentation. This was our favorite:
“AMAZING! FANTASTIC! STUPENDOUS! (not enough adjectives to describe our joy) The class loved it. Me too.”
Locally, we hosted nearly 70 educational tours and presentations for school and community groups throughout the Tampa Bay area. More often than not, the presentations were aligned with fundraisers or advocacy campaigns initiated by groups and done in collaboration with BCR staff.
In an annual tradition, Big Cat Rescuers went out into the community in late November to participate in the Great American Teach-In (GATI). We had a lot going on at the sanctuary during the month, so it was an extra labor of service for our 10 fantastic Rescuers, a mix of staff and volunteers, who volunteered to speak to over 1,650 students at 21 schools in Pasco, Pinellas, and Hillsborough counties. GATI is a unique opportunity to introduce kids to Big Cat Rescue’s work, the issues impacting big cats, and most importantly – empower them to be part of the solution!
2018 brought both unlikely and historic wins for both captive and wild big cats.
From holding back assaults to long-standing state laws and protections to jumping for joy over a historic win – there were many grounds to hold and reasons to celebrate. And we did it thanks to our outstanding AdvoCats!
Highlights from the year:
Just four days into the New Year we sent out an action alert for what was destined to be a historic win for animals. On January 4th, the New Jersey state legislature was set to vote on a historic bill to prohibit the use of elephants and other wild or exotic animals, such as lions and tigers, in traveling animal acts. But a snow day bought us time to reach out to advocates and solicit their support for this sudden opportunity. You see, Nosey’s Law was initially written to only prohibit elephants in traveling acts. But just before the 2017 holidays, it was amended to include other wild and exotic animals! Nosey’s Law would put an end to big cats jumping through rings of fire, leaping between pedestals, and performing other unnatural acts for entertainment. It would also be the beginning of a nation-wide movement to codify what society has already concluded – wild animals do not belong in the circus! In a sweeping victory, Nosey’s Law passed both state houses on January 8th. But New Jersey ‘s then Governor, Chris Christie, who had already made a name for himself by previously vetoing a humane measure that had overwhelming public support, made one last pass to thwart progress for animals by playing an uncommonly used card – the pocket veto. By refusing to sign the bill before he left office, Nosey’s Law, by default, was vetoed by the Governor’s office and a near victory fell through the cracks.
In February, the Missouri state legislature was moving quickly to undermine existing local bans on the use of wild and exotic animals in entertainment. Big Cat Rescue joined with many local and national groups in asking their supporters to speak out against the “Working Animal Protection Act” HB1907/SB917. Thanks to the efforts of animal advocates like you, the legislation died!
In March, Big Cat Rescue spoke out against a USDA proposal to contract third-party vendors to conduct Animal Welfare Act (AWA) inspections of USDA licensed facilities in place of USDA inspectors. We know these programs to be ineffective. Conflicts of interest and problems with transparency are inevitable when licensees are allowed to self-police. Our supporters submitted public comments opposing the ill-conceived plan and Carole, Howard, and Jen spoke at a public USDA listening session hosted in Tampa. They heard us loud and clear and rescinded the idea a few months later!
Two big wins for bobcats came mid Spring. On May 15th, the Indiana Natural Resources Commission struck down a proposal to open a bobcat hunting and trapping season. Two days later, the Ohio Wildlife Council voted to postpone a bobcat trapping proposal indefinitely.
Big Cat Rescue worked with local partners to fight these threats and signed onto coalition letters opposing bobcat seasons in both Indiana and Ohio. We activated supporters in those states to contact officials and attend public hearings to be a voice for the cats. In Ohio, advocates (a.k.a. AdvoCats) submitted letters to the editors of various newspapers. And Indiana AdvoCats called on Governor Holcomb to protect the species. Thanks in part to Big Cat Rescue supporters and AdvoCats in Indiana and Ohio, bobcats were victorious in two particularly tough fights. These wins are a testament to the power of people taking action!
In the 115th session alone, Congress mounted an unprecedented number of legislative assaults on the Endangered Species Act. This keystone law has saved some of our country’s most cherished animals from extinction, from the bald eagle to the gray wolf. And it continues to protect iconic species of cat, such as jaguars and the Florida panther. We joined the fight to save the ESA in August when the administration proposed a 3-part battle plan that would leave threatened and endangered species defeated. If ultimately approved, these rules would strip existing protections, prevent critical habitat designations, block imperiled species from receiving the protections they deserve, and completely gut protections for animals listed as threatened in the future. Over 2,700 supporters joined us in this fight by submitting comments to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in what turned out to be one of the most strongly opposed proposals of the administration. FWS has yet to come down with a decision, but whatever happens next, Big Cat Rescue will be on the front lines prepared to fight for our nation’s most critical protections for wildlife.
Along the same front, another chapter in the long saga to stop development in prime Florida panther habitat came in November. For a few years a group of landowners in Florida have been taking steps to develop a city bigger than Washington DC in prime panther habitat just north of the Everglades. Under the Endangered Species Act, the permitting process requires landowners to create a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), which must then be approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. But don’t let the name of this plan fool you! Part of the HCP involves an Incidental Take Permit. If approved, this permit would allow the landowners to “incidentally take” Florida panthers, gopher tortoises, sandhill cranes, burrowing owls, and 15 other protected species for the next 50 years on 45,000 acres in prime wildlife habitat! What does “incidental take” mean? It means that as a consequence of development, these animals can be inadvertently harassed, injured, pursued, shot, wounded, killed, trapped, captured, collected, or have their habitats changed or damaged so much that it kills them. We joined our friends at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in getting nearly 600 supporters to submit comments against the HCP and demand that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deny it.
The best things in life are worth waiting for… On December 14th, New Jersey became the first state to ban the use of wild and exotic animals in the circus and in traveling shows!!!
Big Cat Rescue worked to gain support for every iteration of Nosey’s Law, from sending action alerts to our supporters (prompting emails and phone calls) to having one of our very own outstanding AdvoCats directly involved in advocating for the bill’s passage. Congratulations to everyone involved and major kudos to our friends at Animal Defenders International and the Humane Society of the United States for their pivotal role in making this day happen! This is just the first domino to fall… many more states to come and dare I say it, an end to big cats in the circus is in sight! What a grrrreat way to end the year!
This year we continued to develop our relationships with law enforcement, some newly rooted others growing and thriving. That is especially true of our partnership the National Sheriffs’ Association.
We attended our first National Sheriffs’ Association Conference at the start of 2016. Many wondered what we were doing there. Most of our cursory conversations included an explanation that we were, in fact, a rescue organization for wild cats. (Keep in mind that companies who provide services and products to law enforcement commonly use big cats in their logos and names.) But once people understood who we were, it was surprising how many Sheriffs, and deputies immediately recalled a facility or private owner with a big cat in their jurisdiction and how many of thee cats were being kept in questionable conditions. Clearly, we were in the right place.
After that conference our Director of Outreach, Jennifer Leon, worked with the National Sheriffs’ Association to facilitate a resolution in support of the Big Cat Public Safety Act – recognizing “that the private ownership of big cats in America is a serious public safety problem which requires the passage of the ‘Big Cat Public Safety Act’ to ensure big cats only live in secure facilities that can properly provide for them and do not diminish public safety.” This resolution was the first of its kind and has been invaluable in our efforts to gain congressional support for the bill. You can link to the resolution from our website at http://bigcatrescue.org/lawenforcement/.
In February, Jennifer spent a week in Washington DC meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill and once again representing Big Cat Rescue at the National Sheriffs’ Association Winter Conference. This year our friends at the International Fund for Animal Welfare joined us in the exhibit hall. They provided signage and small toy tigers to attendees as a way of saying thank you to our country’s highest constitutional law enforcement officers for their support in ending the private ownership of big cats as pets. Of course, plush toy tigers are the only tigers that belong in homes! In addition to exhibiting, Jennifer had the unique opportunity to briefly address the NSA Executive Committee, Board of Directors and Past Presidents with our message of thanks. It was certainly the highlight of her trip and a wonderful moment for big cat advocacy.
Over the summer, Jennifer was invited to attend and present at the NSA’s Annual Conference in New Orleans on the topic of Law Enforcement and Captive Wildlife during the National Coalition on Violence Against Animals (NCOVAA) meeting. We were also asked to submit an article for the July/August 2018 issue of Sheriff & Deputy magazine highlighting a rescue where we worked with law enforcement. And we became an official partner of the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse.
Jennifer also represents Big Cat Rescue on the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance Advocacy Committee. Formed in 2017, the Alliance works to eliminate private ownership and the commercial exploitation of wild cats in the United States. The Advocacy committee produces content to support this mission such as position statements, white papers, and outreach materials. It also promotes public education, supports federal and local legislation, and responds to national stories involving wild cats in popular media. As the year closes out the committee is finalizing a toolkit that sanctuaries and their supporters can reference when responding to the exploitation of big cats in their community.
Over the summer former animal care intern Alayna Hanna rejoined our team for three months as the Outreach Intern. This unique internship opportunity offers students and advocates an inside look into the mechanics of coalition building, legislative advocacy, campaigning, research, and policy work. Alayna’s residency culminated in an Advocacy toolkit for AdvoCats who work to educate people in their community about big cat abuse. Alayna also helped garner support for Nosey’s law, researched big cat abusers and hunting regulations, and documented cub petting exploiters – information that will benefit both our educational and legislative efforts for years to come.
Big Cat Rescue’s honored standing as a leader in the Tampa Bay area is built around our community involvement and support. As in past years, we participated in a variety of free family events such as Rescue Weekend at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Gulfport’s Get Rescued, EcoFest, and many St. Francis Day blessing of the animals’ events at local churches.
One of our highest honors here at the sanctuary is to serve as host to Make-A-Wish recipients and their families. Over the years we have welcomed children of all ages for a special day among the cats. Although most of our Make-A-Wish guests have been in recovery or remission, we have on rare occasion, fulfilled a final wish, and we do so with both a heavy but grateful heart. Our admiration goes out to the wish coordinators at Make-A-Wish of Southern Florida who have worked with us to assure that children who dream of meeting big cats do not unwittingly support big cat exploitation or abuse by having their dream fulfilled by Big Cat Rescue, the only GFAS accredited big cat sanctuary in the state of Florida.
2018 marked our entry into the world of cat conventions. And what an exciting year it was! We always say, “a cat is a cat is a cat,” and we know that small cat lovers love big cats all the same. With that inspiration and the help of our friend Cat Man Chris, we ventured into Cat-centric conventions and shows on both the West and East coast and even here in Florida.
In May, our Director of Outreach, Jennifer Leon, joined by Senior Keeper and Zeus tiger’s best friend Rebecca Williams attended Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp in New York City. This two-day feline advocacy event focused on educating cat lovers on some of the biggest issues facing cats today brought in speakers and attendees from across the country. Our friends Cole & Marmalade (CAM) sent their dad, Chris Poole, along to table the event with us and explain to attendees how little cat fans can help big cats!
Jennifer was one of the first speakers on Saturday with her presentation Big Cat Rescue: Leading the Battle to End Big Cat Abuse. And what a great turnout! Attendees learned about Big Cat Rescue’s start, the cats that call our sanctuary home, the issues surrounding cats in the captive trade and how they can help. As one attendee kindly put it “this presentation alone was worth the price of admission”!
Jen, Rebecca, and Chris were overwhelmed with everyone’s kindness and support – it was two non-stop days of talking about the issues and meeting both new and long-time Big Cat Rescue fans. They even got to meet an outstanding BCR supporter and CAM fan who flew in all the way from Paris for the event! Having Cat Man Chris there with Big Cat Rescue was undoubtedly a draw. After posing for a picture with the famous cat dad, Chris was sure to encourage all of his fans to make the Call of the Wild! The Big Cat Rescue booth even had a visit from the cat whisperer himself, Jackson Galaxy! Jackson is a big fan of all cats, big and small, and seemed particularly impressed with our sanctuary’s on-site foster program for domestic kittens. We were sure to extend an invitation for him to visit us in Tampa and check out our Kitten Cabana.
Carole, Karma, Susan, and volunteer Rebecca represented the sanctuary at our first time at summer’s CatCon in Pasadena, California. And they were once again joined by Cole & Marmalade’s dad. Check out photos from this premier cat fan event in our August 6th Daily Update.
Without a doubt, we were most excited when the cat craze found it’s way into our backyard with the first ever KittyCon right here in our hometown of Tampa in late October. Big Cat Rescue was one of the main event sponsors, and we even hosted our own celebrity panel with Carole, Afton, Brittany, Lauren, and Jennifer moderating. Watch the full panel video at this YouTube link.
Every two years the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) hosts Taking Action for Animals (TAFA), the nation’s preeminent animal advocacy conference, in our nation’s capital. Advocates from across the country come together for this weekend-long event to learn more about key animal protection issues, network with like-minded professionals, and sharpen their advocacy skills. The conference culminates in a trip to Capitol Hill for Humane Lobby Day where attendees meet with their legislators to discuss significant animal legislation, such as the Big Cat Public Safety Act!
As in previous years, Big Cat Rescue was TAFA’s diamond sponsor, making the BCR logo prominent on conference materials throughout the weekend. It embellished chocolate tarts served for lunch, dessert medallions used to garnish our signature drink during cocktail hour (the Tigertini), and popped as the main image on the coveted TAFA tote bag.
Former and current Outreach Interns Diane and Alayna assisted Big Cat Rescue’s Director of Public Relations, Susan Bass, and Director of Outreach, Jennifer Leon, in manning our booth and engaging with attendees. They chatted with conference goers about the issues of big cats in captivity, helped them to make the Call of the Wild, and prepared them to discuss the bill when they met with their legislators on lobby day.
Howard addressed a packed room during the conference’s Saturday luncheon. Using two brief video clips, he got across a simple yet compelling call to action. “This is how the cats live at our sanctuary,” he said, queuing a highlight real of some of our most iconic residents enjoying sanctuary life. “And this is what we rescue them from” followed by clips from our rescue sites and undercover footage of cub abuse. The juxtaposition triggered tears and silenced the room. It doesn’t take much to show why the work we do is so critical. Howard’s daily session “How YOU can stop the abuse of big cats” drew quite an audience and rave reviews. It was easy to tell when his presentation concluded because attendees eager to make the call would rush the BCR table. Even Carole found herself working from behind the booth to help manage the crowd of supporters!
The 115th session of Congress comes to a close at the end of this year. Although the Big Cat Public Safety Act did not make it to a vote, it did have 144 cosponsors in the House and 6 cosponsors in the Senate – the greatest amount of Congressional support we’ve ever had!
This momentum came about thanks to our supporters making over 10,000 calls to federal legislators using our Phone2Action calling system! An all-time high for our Call of the Wild action! You too can make the call by just texting the word CATS to 52886!
Watch this How-To video we released earlier in the year to see how easy it is! (Note: this video was made before the Senate version of the Big Cat Public Safety Act was introduced but still shows how easy it is to make the Call of the Wild. The recording has since been updated)
Don’t fret; we will be reintroducing the Big Cat Public Safety Act into the 116th session of Congress sometime next year. – Jennifer Leon, Director of Outreach