OSCEOLA COUNTY, FLORIDA (Sept. 1, 2010) – Dr. Bill Broussard, and his wife Margaret, have done it again – this time coming to the rescue of the Big Cats. The Broussards have agreed to host the Central Florida Animal Reserve’s new zoological park for lions, tigers, leopards and cougars at Forever Florida, the wildlife sanctuary they developed in memory of their son, Allen, and is a haven for beleaguered wildlife.
The Central Florida Animal Reservewas under pressure from the Brevard County, Florida, Commission to relocate the cats to a “properly zoned” location by April of next year because of protests of local residents, and their concerns about the presence of the big cats in a community north of Scottsmoor, Florida.
The Big Cat announcement comes on the heels of the Broussard’s acquisition and guardianship last month of the endangered Santa Cruzhorses on their Crescent J Ranch,located adjacent to Forever Florida, a 4,700-acre conservation ranch south of Holopaw that features wildlife safaris, a zipline experience, camping and special events.
“Although we are still working out the time frame and details, we will be adding the Big Cats into our wildlife education center,” said Matt Duda, Forever Florida’s director of sales and marketing.
Snapshots of tigers and lions, together with a large plush version of one of the beasts, decorate the West Melbourne dental practice of Drs. Effie and Thomas Blue, giving a hint at the couple’s abiding passion for the magnificent but beleaguered big cats. Many people admire the kings of the wild, but few, unlike the Blues, take care of one – much less 50.
Dr. Thomas is president and Dr. Effie is director and volunteer coordinator of theCentral Florida Animal Reserve, currently a three-acre Canaveral Groves, Florida sanctuary that is home to rescued tigers, lions, cougars and a host of other exotic species, including the lithe civets, coati mundis and even cute-as-a-button tiny genet cats. Thirty-eight of the 50 are tigers.
The animals’ histories vary, but share a theme of human thoughtlessness. Some were saved at the last minute from canned hunts, where “hunters” pay thousands for the pleasure of shooting at animals in an enclosed area.
Other rescues were former pets, grown too big and too unmanageable for their owners. One of the lions was once used as a photo prop in Mexico City. Wicasa, one of the handsome white tigers and Tom’s favorite, was used for stud.
The big cats could certainly use champions like the Blues, for the future of many of these species remains in serious jeopardy. Tigers, for example, number only about 5,000 in the wild, much less than the population in captivity.
In the last century, three subspecies have become extinct and the five remaining are critically endangered, due to human encroachment and rampant poaching, primarily for use in Oriental medicine. Only about 200 white tigers exist and ten of them live at the reserve.
Some states, including Florida, forbid keeping these wild creatures as pets, but others have no such restrictions, despite the fact that having a lion or a tiger at home is a very, very bad idea, for regardless how tame they may seem, the wild will always remain in their hearts, as witnessed by the mauling of Las Vegas tigermeister Roy Horn in 2003.
People often ask the Blues how to get a tiger they can call a pet. “The answer is you don’t,” said Tom.
LABOR OF LOVE
The Blues earned both their undergraduate and graduate degrees (Class of ’83) from the University of Florida, but, while they always root for the Gators, they are also on the side of the cats. House cats Mugsy and Tina rule the roost, blissfully unaware of the size of the other cats in their owners’ lives.
Tigers range in size from 400 to more than 800 pounds. With that size, no wonder the big cats love to eat – a lot! The reserve currently goes through 700 pounds of chicken, pork, beef and fish every day, translating into $250,000 in cost to keep them well fed.
Money is a serious issue, for the reserve depends on private donations, including some of the Blues’ patients, to operate. The reserve receives no federal or state funding.
“We can’t take in any more cats because of finances,” said Dr. Tom.
The Blues are big cat fans from way back.
“When I first met my wife, her entire apartment was done in great cat motif,” said Blue.
For Tom, the love affair with the great beasts galvanized when a friend acquired a cougar as a pet. “I became quite good friends with her,” he said.
In the 1990s, the couple began volunteering for an animal sanctuary that eventually evolved into the Central Florida Animal Reserve. The work involves plenty of mucking up. Effie spends Tuesdays feeding cats and cleaning cages, while Tom is there on Saturday and is also the point man for negotiating with the Board of County Commissioners as the reserve searches for more land to call home.
“We spend about 20 to 30 hours a week there,” said Tom. “It is our second job. It is truly a labor of love.”
Also on the board of directors is Dr. Kevin Wiltz, aka Dr. Simba, as he is known because of his soft spot for lions. Supporters from the healthcare field include dentist Dr. Craig Kara, orthodontist Dr. Mark Stewart, oral surgeons Drs. Timothy Lang and Richard Schmid, nuclear medicine specialist Dr. Ron Levy and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Carlos Woodward.
Forty volunteers keep the cats clean and well fed. With the sanctuary at a crossroads in its future, the Broussards came through in the nick of time. Although the cats are kept in reasonably comfortable surroundings, three acres is not much for 38 tigers and their brethren.
CO-EXISTING WITH THE BIG CATS
Architectural engineer Dave Menzel of MAI Incorporatedhas created a site plan for the proposed facility. Once realized, it will help both animals and humans, for the reserve’s board of directors envisions the new facility as a place to raise awareness for the next generation of environmentalists.
“We have a goal of raising $1 million in a drive to the constructions of the new facility. We aim to create a world-class educational environment to inform people of the plight of the great cats in the wild and in captivity. These animals have the right to stay on the earth. Humans and the great cats should be able to co-exist.”
The Central Florida Animal Reserve welcomes volunteers and donations. Donors can choose to “adopt” one or more of the animals.
For a list of available adoptions and additional information about the reserve, visit www.cflar.org or call 321-637-0110.
- Broussards Open Forever Florida Zipline
- Broussards New Guardians of Endangered Santa Cruz Horses
- Forever Florida: The Land Allen Broussard Loved
- Editor’s Note: ‘Project of Promise’
- Forever Florida Great Team Building Venue
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
Caring for cats – Ending the trade
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