…I hadn’t seen any lions at Busch Gardens, and the ones at Lowry Park Zoo were napping in the early afternoon sun and didn’t look too photogenic, but I got close to some very impressive lions at Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue.
A non-profit, educational sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue is the home of more than 140 lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, bobcats, and other large felines.
Jeff, the young man who guided me around the 18-hectare site, told me some heartbreaking stories about the abused and abandoned cats being sheltered there.
Stretched out in the sunlight near the front of his cage was Sabre, a gorgeous 15-year-old black leopard. He had been “temporarily” left in 1995 by an owner who then moved and left no forwarding address.
Some animals had more tragic histories.
From a distance, Jeff pointed toward another leopard.
“We shouldn’t go too close to Shaquille,” he said. “He hates men.”
The former Las Vegas circus animal had refused to jump through a flaming hoop and was beaten nearly to death by a man.
Now mostly recovered, he purrs affectionately when female volunteers care for him.
I also saw Nikita, a lioness whose owner had had her de-clawed and kept her chained in his basement.
She was seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration during a drug raid and has enjoyed living at Big Cat Rescue since 2001.
Being on safari in Tampa, Florida, may not be as adventurous as really going to Africa, but it’s easier, safer, and less costly.
For me, having recently passed the age-60 milestone, comfort and safety are travel priorities that have grown increasingly important.
Travel Editor Vic Foster’s guest this week is freelance travel writer Robert Scheer, who lives in Vancouver. Travel the world on the Internet at www.travelingtales.com.