8 Month Investigation Could Have Taken 1 Day

Avatar BCR | December 25, 2008 9 Views 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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This would be amusing if it weren't so pitiful.

The article below states that it took officials 8 months to figure out who the person was running the fake big cat charity, but the fact of the matter is that they knew who she was and where she lived since July 8, 2008.  It just took Florida's Wildlife Commission five months to do anything about it. 

On July 8th a USDA inspector asked Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, if she had ever heard of rescuebigcatorg.com.  This was the reply, sent back the same day:

"I have never heard of them, nor of any of the people they list on their web site, which is pretty much bogus from what I can tell.  These are the contacts listed for the domain name:

Rescue Big Cat Org
(561) 889-9370 Phone
157 Cayman Drive
Palm Springs, Florida 33461
United States

Administrative Contact
heather southworth
Rescue Big Cat Org
(561) 889-9370 Phone
157 Cayman Drive
Palm Springs, Florida 33461
United States

I looked the address up on google maps and their street view just shows a modest neighborhood.  One house has a high fence around it.

Palm Springs, Florida 33461
http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=157+Cayman+Drive+Palm+Springs,+Florida+33461&sll=28.060598,-82.57126&sspn=0.012024,0.019248&ie=UTF8&ll=26.635184,-80.090096&spn=0.01218,0.019248&z=16&layer=c&cbll=26.631158,-80.090079&panoid=7d-_lpqDOtAnryKBFeOFJQ&cbp=1,129.73770129116832,,0,5  "

USDA is only required to see to it that no one is exhibiting big cats with a USDA license, but the lack of coordination between federal and state authorities is problematic.  "Complaints to the FWC typically are ignored," said Carole Baskin.  If no Class I or Class II animals really existed there, then these agencies wouldn't be likely to follow up.

Baskin did write to the web site owner on July 8, 2000 demanding, info@rescuebigcatorg.com: "To Whom it May Concern at Rescue Big Cat Org. You have used photos of our cats on your site and do not have permission to do so.  The lion you call Minnie is our Sarabi who lived here her entire life and died last year from cancer.  The black and golden jaguars died of old age here and were never rescued by you and the black leopard appears to be one of our cats, but it I will have to have someone verify that.  This is more than theft;  it is also deceitful fundraising.  Please remove them immediately from your site."

Carole Baskin also filed a formal complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but expressed dismay at the agency's failure to take any meaningful action on similar complaints filed over the years.  Consumer Services boasts that they can charge 1,000.00 per day for every day that someone illegally solicits charitable contributions but over the years a number of complaints have been filed against traveling big cat photo booths that solicit donations and the only action the state has been known to take against these big cat exploiters is to tell them to stop. The next day they are right back at it again. 

Meanwhile, despite the fact that Heather Southworth has been arrested for fraudulently seeking donations, her web site and its Pay Pal Donate Now button are still operational at www.rescuebigcatorg.com.  That kind of says it all.

Woman Arrested On Allegations She Ran Fake Animal Charity

Web Site Solicited Donations To Organization Caring For Big Cats

POSTED: 9:50 pm EST December 24, 2008

LAKE WORTH, Fla. — A woman in Lake Worth tried to run a fake animal rescue replete with a Web site that appeared legitimate, state officials said.

The Web site claimed the fake organization rescued big cats — tigers, lions and cheetahs — and you could help in this noble cause by sending a donation, WPBF News 25's Terri Parker reported.

But it was all a big fake, down to the pictures of the cats and the names of the people who worked there, Parker said.According to a Web site for Rescue: Big Cat Organization, the organization has branches in Boynton Beach, New York and North Carolina. The Web site said the organization is "home to 150 of the world's most endangered felines, RBCO is a breeding zoo, a rehabilitation center, a housing facility and a research amenity."

The big cat sanctuary turned out to be run by a woman who lives in a Lake Worth house.

Florida Fish and Wildlife officers arrested Heather Southworth, 26, on fraud charges after receiving a tip that led to an eight-month investigation.

Southworth has no big cat facility. Instead, she lives with her mother, who said her daughter never mentioned a big cat rescue."Kittens, you know, white tigers, things like that. She has pictures of them, but any further than that, no," Jackie Southworth said.

Southworth had pictures of all kinds of big cats she said were born at her facility. She had a list of directors, animal experts, volunteers and a way you could donate money to help the cats.

"The Web site looked so believable, so legitimate that you want to contribute because you hear about the rescues, you hear about the tours, so you're thinking this is true and it turns out to be fiction," Florida Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro said.

Jackie Southworth said her daughter suffers from mental illness and has always had a rich fantasy life."We have one cat, she lives on the roof, that's it," Jackie Southworth said.It was not immediately clear whether Heather Southworth collected any money. She told wildlife officers she did, but they said they're still trying to figure out how much.


For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457


Sign our petition to protect tigers from being farmed here:


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