Carole's letter to the reporter:
Dear Will Hobson firstname.lastname@example.org,
Bear Creek Feline Center is no sanctuary. Real sanctuaries do not breed their animals. Real sanctuaries do not let people go in the cages with animals who are capable of killing animals much larger than humans. Real sanctuaries are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Real sanctuaries meet the guidelines posted at SanctuaryStandards.com
If you visit that site and see how reputable sanctuaries behave you will see that Bear Creek is just a back yard menagerie.
Some of the most disturbing elements that you mentioned were that the owners were bragging about how inbred their cougars are, and how they intend to continue to breed them, so they can fool the public into thinking they are FL panthers. If you check with the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, you will find that these are not FL panthers, but just very inbred to look like them, with the kinked tails, cowlick, etc. that are the earmarks of FL panthers. Those earmarks are nothing to be proud of. That is the result of FL not doing their job in protecting wild cougars in FL to the point that their numbers dropped to around 30 in the late 1990s. They dropped to those levels, largely because of inbreeding that came about from pockets of cats not being able to access other, non related cats. Eventually the inbreeding causes the animals to stop reproducing. You can get the whole background on why inbreeding is so bad by learning more about the white tiger: http://bigcatrescue.org/cats/wild/white_tigers.htm
I participated in the American Zoological Association's Felid Taxon Advisory Group's assessment of how many species of cats were in zoos back in the late 1990s and there was only one aging Jaguarundi in the U.S. at the time. How did Jim Broaddus come by his? Exporting from their native range is nearly impossible. Can he prove to you that this was done legally? If it was, what was the point of taking cats from the wild to live in his back yard cages? For years people have made the excuse for this bad behavior by saying they are "educating" the public and causing them to care about animals in the wild, but you will find these places, including most zoos, either send no money back into conservation, or only enough to serve as lip service.
The fact is that if someone can pay $10.00 to see an exotic cat in a cage, they will not send $10.00 to protect that animal in the wild. They will pay for the convenience of seeing the cat in a cage, rather than protect it in the wild. If the only way you could see a Jaguarundi was to go to Central or South America and plow money into eco tourism, then these and other rare and endangered species would have some chance at survival.
No matter what they are saying with their lips, if a person takes a wild cat out on a leash, they make it look like a pet. This is how so many people are duped into fueling the exotic pet trade, which is second only to the illegal trade in drugs. It's bad for the animals and dangerous for the people. The following is a partial listing (583) of incidents in the U.S. involving captive exotic cats since 1990. The U.S. incidents have resulted in the deaths of 21 humans, 16 adults and 5 children, the additional mauling of 193 more adults and children, 170 escapes, the killing of 92 big cats, and 122 confiscations. These figures only represent the headlines that Big Cat Rescue has been able to track. Because there is no reporting agency that keeps such records the actual numbers are certainly much higher. http://bigcatrescue.org/big_cat_news.htm
To see the number of exotic cats abandoned each year go to http://bigcatrescue.org/animal_abuse.htm
Florida represents less than 6% of the U.S. population while 12% of all U.S. incidents occur in Florida. Florida boasts the most comprehensive sets of regulations allowing private ownership of exotic cats while ranking #1 in the highest numbers of big cat killings, maulings and escapes. To see FL rules that are currently being changed go to: http://bigcatrescue.org/laws/2008/captivewildanimalrules.htm
The only intelligent remark made by your subject was, "They're very, very intelligent animals." That is true and that is why it is so cruel to breed them, support those who breed them (by buying or giving them a dumping ground), or take them from the wild for lives of captivity and deprivation. At Big Cat Rescue we have 137 exotic cats and our staff of 84 volunteers spends most of their time trying to keep them comfortable and stimulated. Science is proving that animals are far more complex than we ever imagined. When you consider that a bobcat needs 5 square miles of territory to fully express all of their instinctual talents then it becomes clear why keeping them in cages is so inhumane.
I used to be ignorant, but I learned better. Our evolution is all on our website. There is no excuse, in this day of the Internet, for people to continue to breed wildcats for life in cages. Those who do are not saving animals, but are exploiting them. I hope you will continue to investigate this issue and let the public know what is really going on in the name of "rescue" and "conservation."
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
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Cats rule at Bear Creek (See VIDEO, PHOTO GALLERY)
By WILL HOBSON / News Herald Writer
February 28, 2009 – 5:38PM
PANAMA CITY – Hero, the Siberian lynx, is suffering from stage
fright. Tours at Bear Creek Feline Center, the feline sanctuary off
U.S. 231, are usually treated to Hero's leaping skills, but today the
50-pound cat won't oblige.
Hero is a regal-looking cat, with sandy brown spotted fur and a white
belly. He is sitting against the back wall of his cage, ignoring the
requests of Amanda Libert, a Bear Creek volunteer, to come out and
At first glance the most striking characteristic of a lynx is its
oversized feet. They act as snowshoes when the cat is in its frigid
natural habitat; here they make Hero, an otherwise beautiful
creature, look a little odd, like a 10-year-old boy with size-13 feet.
"They have these luxurious coats. You put your hand on it and it just
sinks in," says Jim Broaddus, who started the non-profit sanctuary at
his home in 2000. Bear Creek, which offers tours ($10 for adults, $5
for children), also houses bobcats, panthers, caracals, servals, and
feisty little otterish-looking cats called jaguarundis.
As Broaddus, 65, talks about Hero, the lynx perks up. Hero's pale
eyes lock in on something behind me, and he pulls his legs, and those
big feet, together into a crouch, as if preparing to pounce.
Libert recognizes the stance.
"Oh, he's hunting," she says matter-of-factly. I stop paying
attention to Broaddus and look over to the 19-year-old Libert.
"He's hunting?" I ask. Broaddus normally doesn't allow people inside
the cage with lynx, which in the wild hunt rabbits, rodents, and
sometimes game as large as sheep and deer. He made an exception for
the photographer and me. I begin to wish he hadn't.
"What is he hunting?" I ask nervously.
Broaddus answers dismissively, "Oh, just the domestic," referring to
Obama, one of his four housecats, who is conveniently outside the
They're right – Hero zones in on Obama, sizes up the cage, then gives
up. He barely looks at me or the photographer. I exhale.
Most of Broaddus' cats are rescues, or re-homes. Hero was bought from
a Nova Scotian fur farm, where he was destined to become a blanket or
a coat before Broaddus bought him.
The biggest feline on Broaddus' 2.5 acres is Cleo, a 200-pound
mountain lion. The smallest are the jaguarundis, which are just a bit
larger than housecats, but you can tell the difference right away.
Jaguarundis hiss like angry rattlesnakes at strangers, but Broaddus
says they're all bark, no bite.
The panthers are the big attraction. Dani is four years old, weighs
about 70 pounds and, according to Broaddus, is the prototypical
"She has the Romanesque nose, the cowlick, the tip on her tail, the
whole package deal. If we could only get her to breed, we'd be
famous," he says.
Educating the public
Broaddus created Bear Creek for conservation and enrichment – to
teach people about these cats while also providing a place where, he
hopes, the ones facing extinction can breed. He estimates there are
only about 100 Florida panthers in the wild, and Bear Creek's
breeding efforts have been in vain so far. Dani and Thatcher, the
male panther, don't get along well, Broaddus says.
We are not allowed to join Broaddus in the cage with Dani. Panthers
are not known to attack humans, but they can get playful, and playful
for a 70-pound cat can be painful for a human.
Bear Creek is in a residential neighborhood, surrounded by a six-foot
chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. A slightly taller wooden
fence runs outside the metal one. Other than a few of his housecats,
none of Broaddus' animals have ever escaped, he says.
Bear Creek volunteers train to handle the cats under Broaddus'
direction, so they can obtain state licenses to train on their own.
Mike Myers, one of those volunteers, takes Marilyn, a 9-month-old
panther, outside of her cage on a leash. Myers tries to get Marilyn
to sit, but she does not comply. He asks her again. She half-sits for
a second, then rolls over on her back.
"Okay, lay," he says, admitting defeat. Marilyn then curls around his
left leg and starts gnawing on his jeans. As he tries to shake her
loose I ask him what it takes to get comfortable around a panther.
"Just spend time with her, and don't mind a few nips," he answers.
Marilyn has acquiesced to being petted as Myers kneels, but then she
clutches onto his leg. Myers tries to stand up, and Marilyn rises
with him, her paws latched onto his leg. She falls off, then,
apparently a bit upset, leaps and bites Myers in the rear end. His
laughter breaks into an "Ow!"
Lynn Culver, a past president of the Feline Conservation
Organization, sold Broaddus some serval kittens (servals look like
small cheetahs, between jaguarundis and lynx in terms of size) when
he started Bear Creek in 2000.
"Florida is rather unique in that it does have a large and exotic
animal population," Culver says in a phone interview.
"With so many people interested in the animals … there's a need for
what Jim does, so we can have the next generation of keepers, and
they can be better than the previous one."
`Very intelligent animals'
A few days after our first visit to Bear Creek, I join Broaddus in
his kitchen. Gregarious when leading the tour the previous week,
Broaddus is now a bit quieter, but no less eager to talk shop.
"Bay County is starved for good, quality, family things to do. The
restaurants, the night clubs, when you run through those, what are
you going to do?" he asks.
Broaddus used to own two local radio stations – WPFM (107.9) and
Island 106 (105.9). He sold them both, the latter in 1996. His
interest in music is still evident, though. He named Dani after "Dani
California", the song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. When asked about
tattoos on his wrist and neck, Broaddus simply says, "I guess they're
from the whole rock and roll scene," and quickly changes the topic.
His wife, Bertie, is a teacher at Waller Elementary School. The cats
are like family members; one of the servals slept with the Broaddus'
until it started urinating in the bed. Dani spends most of her time
on a deck outside their bedroom.
A silence in the conversation is broken by the sound of liquid
clapping against concrete. Dani is relieving herself from the deck.
"Well that's kind of embarrassing," he says.
I ask him if he ever worries about one of the cats going off on him
Siegfried and Roy-style.
"I do. I think about it," he says, then looks off into his yard in a
moment of introspection.
"I probably shouldn't even tell you this, but I was in the hospital
for a while last year … Cleo slapped me in the head. It wasn't his
fault, he was just doing what cats do."
The blow gave Broaddus a subdural hematoma. He recovered, though, and
is quick to point out that that could never happen with a guest; they
don't go in the cage with Cleo.
"They're very, very intelligent animals," said Broaddus of his
panthers. I ask him how a panther reacts when it encounters humans in
"He'd run away from you if he had the chance," he answers. "If I had
100 acres, and had one living out there next to me, I'd try to make
friends with it."