It was a tourist attraction. Four tigers, a lion and a lioness, chained to the ground with leather collars. Three of them were declawed. Tourists could come and pose with the weak, defeated animals, putting their arms around them, and receive a certificate that said they were a lion tamer. The animals had been there so long, that by the time they were rescued, the leather collar on the lioness, Sasha, had grown into her neck. And it was all legal.
Big Cat Rescue, a large cat sanctuary in Florida, was one of the organizations who seized the animals after their owner was evicted from her property. The rescue is the world’s largest accredited sanctuary, with 45 acres and nearly 120 cats; housing everything from bobcats, ocelots and servals to lions, tigers and leopards. As a sanctuary, they do not breed any of their animals and discourage human contact with them, to emphasize that these cats are wild animals and should not be kept as pets.
Director of donor appreciation Jeff Kremer said that the exotic pet industry is a 2 billion dollar a year industry in the United States. In more than half the country, people can legally keep all of the big cats you will find at Big Cat Rescue. What people don’t realize, is that the cute and cuddly animal they adopt as a kitten is going to grow into a large, hard to handle wild animal. Often, people will call the sanctuary to hand over a big cat that has grown up when they don’t want it anymore.
Big Cat Rescue requires all people who hand over animals to sign a contract saying they will no longer own, breed or sell any wild animals. The original contract was signed by a farmer who bred lynx and bobcats for their fur. The sanctuary’s founders rescued all of his 56 animals and made him agree to no longer breed and sell the cats. “People who had bred wild animals become part of the solution,” Kremer said.
Most of the animals Big Cat Rescue takes in have been human imprinted and will never be able to return to the wild. These animals have a permanent home at the sanctuary, and serve as educational tools to teach the public why they do not belong in captivity. Sometimes, the sanctuary will rescue cubs or already wild animals out of the wild, for instance if they got hit by a car or their mother was killed. They have a rehab program to teach cubs how to catch wild food and grow up like a normal wild animal. A recent litter of bobcats was raised nursing with a domestic cat.
One of the most important missions of Big Cat Rescue is to educate the public about the big cats who call the sanctuary their home.
“We not only teach children about the scientific aspects about these species, but also teach them respect for animals when they’re younger,” Kremer said. “They’ll grow up to be not just compassionate towards animals, but towards people as well.”
Learn more about Big Cat Rescue and how to help their cause (or visit for an education tour) at their website.