Abandoned Big Cats
And Why They Aren’t Coming Here
|“By 2003 we had to turn away 312 big cats”|
When the phone stops ringing from people trying to abandon their exotic cat, our job will be done. Thanks to all of you who write letters and fund our mission, that day is getting closer and closer to being a reality. Saying “no” is the hardest thing we do here, but our commitment is to a life time of care and we won’t jeopardize that by taking on more big cats than we can safely handle or feed. In just the last 9 years there have been 15 big cat facilities that have gone under where they had from 10 to 60 big cats at the time. We know that it will cost us about $7,500.00 per big cat, per year to care for them until they die of old age. In most cases people are trying to get rid of last year’s cubs that they cannot use any more. With proper care those cats will live another 20 years.
People often ask if it is hard to start a sanctuary and it is not. What is hard is doing it in a way that doesn’t add to the problem. When people found out we had rescued the cats from the fur farms back in 1993 they started calling and asking us to take their lions, tigers and leopards that they had foolishly bought as pets, when they were cute little cubs, but now did not want.
By 2003 we had to turn away 312 big cats that we did not have the finances to rescue for their 20 year lives. Every other year that number was doubling. We knew that if we couldn’t take them in they would almost always end up in miserable conditions or thrust back into the breeders’ hands to create more animals that would be discarded the following year as they matured.
|“…instead of turning away what we expected to be 500-600 big cats, we “only” had to turn away 110. By 2007 that number dropped to 73…”|
It was heartbreaking to have to be turning away a big cat almost every day. It made all of the hard work we were doing to care for 100+ big cats seem pointless when the bad guys were increasing the number of
suffering cats faster than we could raise money to save them. A bill had stagnated for six years in Congress that would have stopped a lot of the problem, but it is hard to get lawmakers to hear a bill about protecting big cats when there are so many other issues vying for their time. We used every opportunity to inform our volunteers and visitors about the importance of the bill and in Dec. 2003 the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act passed.
One Law Saved More Big Cats Than All of Us Combined
The Captive Wild Animal Safety Act made it illegal to sell a big cat, across state lines, as a pet. There were a lot of parameters and the actual rules to enforce the law were not written by the US Fish and Wildlife Service until Sept. 2007, but the breeders must have seen the hand writing on the wall, and many stopped breeding. (Coincidentally there have been record numbers of reported cougar sightings in areas where cougars have been extinct for 100 years since the ban passed in 2003) The following year, instead of turning away what we expected to be 500-600 big cats, we “only” had to turn away 110. By 2007 that number dropped to 73 and it continues to decline as 7 more states have banned the private possession of big cats and many more are cracking down on an industry that has been largely left to run wild.
Now the number one reason for unwanted big cats is that they are used as props for edu-tainment, photo opportunities and as a way to attract the public to zoos, pseudo sanctuaries and con artists who assure the public that the cats have been bred to save the species from extinction. None of these back yard breeders are involved in any real conservation efforts and there are no release programs for big cats because there is no appropriate habitat reserved for them. Cubs are bred, used and then discarded as yearlings to well meaning rescuers who love being able to help a big cat and who often post pictures of themselves petting the big cats silently saying to the world, “Do as I say, and not as I do,” while saying out loud, “These animals don’t make good pets.”
Fewer Big Cats in Peril
|“Before long the pseudo sanctuary is calling around the country looking for someone to take all of their “rescues” off their hands.”|
A couple years, and a hundred big cats later, they realize that they can’t rescue their way out. A rescue brings in money up until the day the cat gets to the sanctuary. After that donors and volunteers are usually looking for the next “feel good” event where they can rescue a big cat. This lack of planning for the long term quickly reaches a tipping point. The animals already rescued begin to go without vet care, regular meals, and their cage space is filled with more and more big cats, often causing injuries and death. Before long the pseudo sanctuary is calling around the country looking for someone to take all of their “rescues” off their hands. But there is no place for them to go.
The state and federal government don’t intercede until the situation is so dire that public outcry won’t let them ignore it any longer because they know there is no where for the cats to go and they don’t want to be perceived as bad guys stepping in and euthanizing a bunch of charismatic tigers. We have seen abuse and neglect that will turn your stomach in facilities that are currently “in compliance” with all state and federal agencies.
The number of big cats in peril have been dropping dramatically and others in the sanctuary field have reported similar findings. Two of the most telling are that some sanctuaries are dropping the reference to feline (cat) in their names and are turning their attention to wolves and bears. (A similar bill the the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act is expected to pass soon that will restrict the primate trade, which is sure to decrease the number of monkeys in need of rescue.) Valori Russell, CEO of the American Tiger Rescue said during a recent visit to Big Cat Rescue, “I was getting 50 calls per year from 2004 – 2007. I’ve only had 2 calls by mid 2008 but by the time I returned their call they had all ready placed the cats.”
Scratching Emotion From the List
Big Cat Rescue adheres to a strict Acquisition Policy. It is a set of guidelines we developed to take the emotion out of the decision and use facts. Two key facts for us to consider are: Can we afford to take this cat in and care for him until he dies? The other is: Who is going to clean his cage and deliver his food each day? We have an excellent safety record because we require two years of training and a commitment of at least 8 hours per week for our Keepers to be allowed to care for Leopards, Lions and Tigers. Up until then, they care for the smaller cats of cougars on down. Our big cat level is referred to as our Green Shirt level and we are currently maxed out with the number of lions, tigers and leopards who need daily care and the number of Green Shirt staff and volunteers we have who are qualified to do it. Until we have more Yellow Shirts graduate to Green we can’t take in any more lions, tigers or leopards. We only spend 14% of our donor’s funds on Admin and Fund raising combined. We rely on our dedicated volunteers to enable us to be sure that donations end up benefiting the cats and not just paying a bunch of salaries.
|“there was one issue that kept us from taking in the cats; the owner’s refused to sign an agreement that they wouldn’t just go right back out and buy another one.”|
Of the 76 cats who were abandoned this year, 25 of them were cougars or smaller and in most cases they met our other criteria and we offered to take them. In one case the cougar was killed before we responded as the owner had died and the family just didn’t want to deal with the cat. In a couple of cases breeders rushed in to get free breeding stock or animals they could re-sell. In all of the other cases there was one issue that kept us from taking in the cats; the owner’s refused to sign an agreement that they wouldn’t just go right back out and buy another one. We aren’t ending the problem if we just allow irresponsible people to dump last year’s baby on us, so they can go out and buy or breed more.
There is a Solution
and YOU can be a part of it
There is a solution and we are making that legislative agenda our highest priority. The ultimate answer is to end the practice of keeping big cats captive and the bill currently before Congress that will be the next step is Haley’s Act. The bill is named after the teenager who was mauled to death by a tiger while posing with the cat
for a photo. It bans public contact with big cats and that would end more than 90% of big cats being discarded after they cannot be used for these close encounters. The bill is HR 1947 and you can help make it the law at www.CatLaws.com
|Unwanted||We Took||Found||We Took These Cats In|
|Big Cats||These||Homes||at Big Cat Rescue|
|1999||55||13||0||7 tigers, 2 cougars, 2 bobcats, 2 servals|
|2000||56||11||0||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|
|2006||79||0||0||none other than hybrids|
|2007||73||13||2||6 tigers, 2 lions, 5 rehab bobcats|
|2008||85||3||22||2 tigers, 1 liger offered homes to 22 more|
In 2008 we were asked to take 43 tigers, 12 lions, 11 bobcats, 10 cougars, 4 servals, 1 Canada lynx, 1 caracal, and 1 liger. We rescued 2 tigers and 1 liger and offered to take 22 more of these cats if the owners would agree to never own exotic cats again. They refused. We will not enable people to keep trading in their older cats for cubs to use. We also tried to rescue a jaguar from Cypress Gardens, but they refused to let Sheba go. Instead they sent her to a bankrupt breeder named Kathy Stearns who put her in with a leopard right away to breed hybrids. Sheba killed the leopard and then later died from her untreated wounds, according to her staff.