hear big cats


Male Siberian/Bengal Tiger

DOB 1/1/93 – 5/31/16

Arrived at Big Cat Rescue 12/5/2000

Bengali was First to Arrive and the Last to Leave

It was either late 1997 or maybe 1998 when a friend of mine walked into my office and said, “You have to see this!”

That led to a road trip to secretly meet with an elephant keeper who said that he just hated tigers and would do anything to get rid of them.  He was angry because his well hidden plot of dirt, where used elephants go to disappear, had been taken over by a long row of circus wagons full of tigers.  I could not believe my eyes when I saw circus wagon after wagon, each with a lone tiger and a water bowl and nothing else.

No shade, no toys, no place to lay except on the hot, hard floors of the iron barred cages.  The keeper said the cats had been there for a couple of years because they wouldn’t perform any more and that USDA was all over them about the conditions, but nobody wanted to spend money on building a retirement center for them because, unlike the elephants, breeding them wasn’t as lucrative.  There were plenty of back yard breeders who were using cubs for photo ops and then selling them to the circuses to be used.

That began 2 or 3 years of negotiations between me and the circus to get these cats out of the beast wagons and into our sanctuary.  I’d just lost my husband and the courts had seized our assets because we didn’t know where he’d gone, or if he’d be back.  His kids by a former wife didn’t want any more of “their money” being wasted on feeding and caring for lions, tigers and the other hundred or so exotic cats at the sanctuary.  I had to learn how to ask for money and help because I could only access a limited allowance, which was a third of what it cost to actually run the rescue.  There was no way I could afford to take the 20 tigers from the circus when I knew that each cat would cost me 7500.00 in just food and vet care (back then).

The negotiations ended with the agreement that the circus would build the cages and supply the food and vet care costs and I would take the cats who were currently sitting in Williston, FL and the rest of the tigers as they got ill or stopped performing until all 19 tigers and 1 leopard were here.  The caveat was that I could not tell anyone the name of the circus or they could take the cats back.  I held good to that promise because I shudder at the thought of where these cats could end up.

Just before Christmas in the year 2000 the first six tigers arrived: “the bengal” (because he never had a name and was just referred to by his breed), his brother, S.A.R.M.O.T.I., Nini, Axel, Buffy and Conan.  We added the i to Bengal to give him a proper name of Bengali.  Bengali and S.A.R.M.O.T.I. had been reported to have been born at the infamous Siegfried and Roy nightclub in Las Vegas, but because they were the “wrong” color (golden instead of white) they were handed off to the circus. They rode in a chariot behind horses, which had to be a torment to the horses, as well as the tigers, who were restrained (use your imagination for how, but I guarantee it wasn’t “positive reinforcement”) from doing what they would naturally do to horses.

Getting records from circuses and private owners always proves challenging.  The paperwork they arrived with said Bengali had been born in 1995, but later, one of the circus vets said they had records on him going back to 1993.  We discovered that back in 2013 when his brother S.A.R.M.O.T.I. died.  Whether he was 5 or 7 when he arrived; he was still a youngster.  Tigers usually don’t begin killing their owners and trainers until they are somewhere between 5 and 7, even though they can look full grown at a year or two.  When Bengali arrived his trainers said he was treacherous and would surely kill someone, but as soon as he had 2,000 square feet of space to himself, with a pond, cave, trees, bushes and grass, he became one of the happiest and most beloved of tigers who ever stepped foot on Tampa soil.

VR-Bengali-2014-12-11 09.47.58It was clear, as I tried to walk off the morning’s events, and saw ALL of our volunteers and interns crying, from one end of this 67 acre refuge to the other, that Bengali was leaving a hole in our hearts that nothing would ever fill.  Bengali’s health has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for the past several years.  He’s been treated for a recurring ear infection, and each time has bounced back, but a week or so ago he had a seizure and bit his tongue.  After that he didn’t want to eat and we couldn’t get him to take his meds.  Without his pain management meds, for all of his old cat issues, he felt worse.  The worse he felt, the less inclined he was to eat or take his pills.  When he had a second seizure and bit the other side of his tongue we knew that it was time to let him go.  He was the last of the cats from that circus.

We don’t know if he’s 21 or 23, but in either event, it’s twice as long as tigers usually live.  Bengali got to spend most of that surrounded by people who love him.  As we kneeled beside him for his last breaths I noticed again the scars on his elbows from the years of pacing around in the tiny circus wagon.  I couldn’t hold back the tears. None of us could. If you knew Bengali, then I know you are crying too.

Please don’t let his life in the circus, and that of all the cats who have lived and died in miserable little cages for the amusement of ignorant people, be in vain.  Please take the pledge to never go to a circus that uses wild animals and help end the suffering.

More history of Bengali Tiger

A circus commissioned Big Cat Rescue to build him, as well as several other big cats, a 2,000 square foot enclosure with a den, pool, and lots of space to lay out by the lake and soak up the Florida sunshine. They could have sold him into the pet trade or worse, but instead they sent Bengali here.

Bengali used to ride on a horse drawn chariot in the circus. When he arrived we were told that he was very dangerous because he was so confrontational. It is amazing what a change in living conditions have done for this tiger. Since his days are no longer spent on the road living in a cramped transport crate, but rather playing with his giant red ball, soaking in his pool, napping high on top of his jungle gym platform, or chuffing at his visitors, he is a very happy tiger.

Bengali loves operant conditioning sessions. Operant conditioning is a form of training that utilizes positive reinforcement to encourage natural behaviors such as “sit” and “down.” Being able to have cats like Bengali perform these behaviors on command allows our veterinarians to get a much closer and hands off look during routine examinations.

Several years ago Bengali became ill. He had been losing interest in food and was losing weight. Thanks to Bengali’s operant conditioning the vet was able to draw blood from his tail without having to sedate him. His keepers asked Bengali to lay down and kept his focus on food rewards during the entire procedure.



See More About Bengali Tiger:

September 2014 Video: Natalia Borrego, a doctoral research student from the University of Miami, conducts a research experiment with Bengali and some of the other tigers around the sanctuary. Turns out, Bengali is one smart feline (but we already knew that)!

See Jamie and Carole build a tunnel to get Bengali Tiger home from “vacation” in this Wildcat Walkabout Video on April 25, 2014 –

July 2013 Video: Independence Day at Big Cat Rescue! Watch Bengali, Shere Khan & China Doll create some purr-fect artwork to celebrate the 4th of July! *Using non-toxic paint and 4ft x 4ft canvases the tigers had a grrreat time making “art”!

Video 45 seconds: Bengali loves his big red ball.  He is working hard trying to get it through the doorway between his two enclosures.  The ball is bigger than the door but Bengali is determined.

Photo: Bengali gets a new pool

December 2008 Video: Bengali has a habit of “playing” with his water bowl which actually means desctroying it.  His water bowl has been replaced a few times, watch this funny video to see how he keeps destroying his water bowl and what the staff has done to try to ‘fix’ the issue.

November 2006 Video: Bengali the tiger gets some new dirt and scratchin’ logs in his enclosure.

Tributes to Bengali Tiger

Regina Turgeon Jun 4, 2016
Even though the only time I got to see you was on tour, I will surely miss your chuffs as you would meet the visitors :’-( This never gets any easier any time I hear about this sad news and as I have been here for 5 years I have seen a lot leave us. Go be free Ben, and join your family, just know that you are and will be loved by all of your 2-legged family here.

Sharon Henry May 31, 2016
I’ve always believed that every precious soul that we come to know and love at the sanctuary has something to teach us. You taught us forgiveness. After all you had been thru at the hands of man, you were still able to forgive. You chose to forgive and to find peace in your new life with us. You will forever live on in our hearts and souls. Love you Bengali, so very much. ♡♡

May 31, 2016
I have a hole in my heart today. He was truly a GREAT cat and I am honored that I can say that I knew him. I knew this day was coming and I made a point every time I was there to take a trip over to see my buddy boy Ben. I know that he is no longer in pain and I am certain he knew it was time to go, but it still hurts. I will miss you Benny boy. I will always cherish my memories and love you.

Marie Schoubert May 31, 2016
I can’t even express how sad I feel at this moment. I got to say goodbye to you, but I know we’ll meet again! Meanwhile, say hello to Flavio, Sarmoti and all the others. Lucky them for having you now. And never forget how much we love you!

Regina Rinaldi May 31, 2016
Ben Ben, Benihana, Bennie and the Jets. An icon is gone. This one is rough. I told you Monday there’s no pain on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Send me a sign Ben that you were welcomed by Flavio, SARMOTI, Nini, and the rest. Please just send me a sign. My heart will be heavy for a very long time on this one. You close out an Era of the circus tiger rescues. Benni, I love you til my heart hurts and we’ve had excellent conversations due to your loud vocalizations and chuffs. If I was close enough, I got a little tiger spit when you chuffed and that was ok.
Bengali, regal creature that you are, and always will be, you will be missed. I love you to the moon and back, my beloved Ben Ben.

Alyssa Weber May 31, 2016
I should’ve had something typed up for this, something written in some notebook somewhere. A combination of all of the thoughts that I’ve ever thought of you since I fell in love with you.. But those kind of things don’t happen. I knew you weren’t going to be alive forever, after all immortality doesn’t exist, unfortunately. Even when I did think about starting to write some sort of memorial tribute for you, I tricked myself into denial every time.
“Cats are resilient,” I would remind myself.
It doesn’t matter how long i saw it coming, how long i prepared myself for it. I couldn’t have ever been ready for today.
Bengali.. There wasn’t a single staff member, intern, volunteer, or tour guest that didn’t love you. You’re one of the most iconic cats of the sanctuary. I don’t exactly remember the specific moment that I realized that you were the reason i was going to fight for tigers. But you were one of the soul reasons I came back for a level two internship, three, and then four. You changed my life. Thank you Bengali, for being the inspiration for my career choice. Unfortunately, it’s a journey that I will now have to embark on without you. I wish I would’ve known you for longer than just these two short years. But even if I would have known you forever, forever would not have been enough. I know you’ll still be around, even if I can’t see you. I’ll still feel your soul with me.. Just as part of mine will always be with you.
I pray that your rich, vibrant spirit will carry on as so on the other side with your brother. I don’t want tomorrow to start without you.. I miss you already Benny, you meant more to me than you will ever know.
I love you, run fast, wild, and free handsome man.

May 31, 2016
As it rains down on Big Cat Rescue, not from the sky, but from the eyes of us who loved, cherished, and cared for you. Although your spirit will reign on between the trees and grass. Dusk settles, silence rules the land. As night falls I will always remember when I gaze upon the sky, amongst the stars….sits your moonbeam eyes.

May 31, 2016

BethAnn Bluder May 31, 2016
Good bye Ben. My heart hurts but I am glad you are free from pain. I have many fond memories of you to cherish.

Brittany Mira May 31, 2016
A part of my heart has just left this earth….

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