Don’t Touch Tigers!

Don’t Touch Tigers!

ORLANDO, Fla. — From across the lake, the hunga, hunga roar of a lion rang out. It’s not what you’d typically hear in a Tampa suburb, but at the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary it is normal background noise. His name is Joseph and he was rescued in 2007 from a home in Ohio where he was one of the main attractions in a petting zoo that went under.

IMAGES: Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary

VIDEO: Jessica Sanchez’s Report

Just a few acres away, two Siberian tigers, Nik and Simba, lounge in the shade behind a wire fence. Their toothless yawns and clawless paws show the vicious lengths people go through to turn a wild animal into a harmless pet.”A lot of people say you can train them,” says Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, “but you can never tame them. You can never trust that animal like you do a pet.”

Baskin says a surprising number of people are trying to do just that, and the evidence can be seen throughout this 45-acre sanctuary. It is home to more than 100 exotic felines like cougars, bobcats, leopards, lions and tigers; many of them neglected or abandoned by their previous owners.

Baskin says it is simply too easy in the state of Florida to get a license to own a wild animal, which includes filling out a USDA form with a $40 fee. More than five dozen people in Central Florida own an exotic cat.

“The biggest problem we’re facing here in Florida is when people pay to have their picture taken with a baby cub because that is what creates so much of this breeding,” Baskin says. “So they are constantly breeding, breeding, breeding, then discarding them, giving them away as pets to people who then realize they can’t take care of this animal anymore.”

As the economy got worse, so did the number of neglected cats. The sanctuary is now over capacity.

Baskin says one small way people can help is to never pay to have a picture taken with a cub.

Big Cat Rescue is fighting to put a ban on owning exotic cats. Click here for more information.

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