Published: December 19, 2009
TAMPA – The operations manager of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa has been named Animal Planet's Hero of 2009.
Scott Lope, 41, says who is also a nationally recognized wild animal expert, will receive a $15,000 animal-related trip to anywhere in the world and Big Cat Rescue will get $10,000.
"The money will really help because we live off donations and contributions have been down in this difficult economy," says Lope, who has been with the animal refuge as a volunteer and worker for 16 years.
More than 4,500 animal lovers and caregivers were nominated and Lope says it was an honor just to be among the top 10 finalists. The winner was announced on the Animal Planet cable network at 10 p.m. Friday.
Lope, who gave up a medical career, has devoted his life to helping animals. He works 12 to 14 hours a day at Big Cat Rescue, a Tampa-based refuge for lions, tigers, leopards and other large exotic animals.
He says that for his animal-themed trip he would like to go to Mt. Kilimanjaro or possibly South America.
"Winning the prize is an honor but more importantly it will draw attention to the need to preserve our wild life," he says. It also will focus attention on the efforts of Big Cat Rescue which currently cares for more than 100 animals. Most were abandoned, neglected or abused before ending up at the refuge.
"Scott is wonderful with the animals and he truly deserves the honor," says Elizabeth Wynn, a volunteer veterinarian who works at Big Cat. "I've known him for four years and he gives up his days off and works with other animal causes like Boxer rescue."
Lope also has become the go-to guy for television networks looking for commentary on wild animals. In addition to numerous appearances on Animal Planet and History, he has been featured on Discovery Channel, ABC's "20/20," CNN and Jack Hanna's "Animal Adventures."
The winner has been selected from an online vote that took place between September and November.
Reporter Walt Belcher can be reached at (813} 259-7654 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For being selected, Scott Lope will receive a $15,000 animal-related trip to anywhere in the world and Big Cat Rescue will get $10,000.
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
Free ways to join us and help the big cats:
Vote for us at VoteCats.com
Twitter: Follow Me and be invited to enter our Animal Lover's Dream Vacation Giveaway! @BigCatRescue