Nakoma lion

Nakoma lion

Date of birth 1996

Arrived at Big Cat Rescue 1997

Crossed Rainbow Bridge July 12, 1998

Nakoma was bought for $200 at an auction in Bushnell in early 1997. His previous owner tried to keep him lower than 40 pounds for as long as possible so tourists would pay to have their picture taken safely with him.

After being rescued Carole tried to nurse him back to health at Wild Life on Easy Street and he put on weight quickly enough, but when Nakoma started gaining weight, his hind legs could no longer support the extra weight.

While he was small enough, we made a sling and four people would go in and lift him up so that he could move his legs. We had hoped that by keeping his muscles strong that perhaps he would be able to recover if they found what was causing him to be lame. The problem was that he was a growing lion and his teeth and fore paws were fully functional, which was making his physical therapy more dangerous by the day to his Keepers.

Nakoma was such a sweet Lion, but despite his gentle personality, Big Cats play rough and that never ends well for humans interacting with them.

On July 12, 1998 in an effort to discover why Nakoma was lame in his behind legs, he was taken to St. Joseph’s for an MRI. The hope was an MRI could determine whether there were problems with his spinal cord that could be corrected with surgery.

St. Joseph’s donated the MRI exam.

For three intense hours at St. Joseph’s Diagnostic Center on Sunday morning, Carole was clinging onto hope that a magnetic resonance imaging scan could find out what was wrong with Nakoma, now a crippled, 350-pound lion who was malnourished as a cub.

Going into the procedure, veterinarian Stacie Wadsworth had a sinking feeling that her last hope for diagnosing why Nakoma couldn’t walk would not work.

Just before 2 p.m. Sunday, the worst was confirmed. The MRI — which Wadsworth had hoped would show a bone problem that could be treated by surgery — showed there was nothing that could be treated. To make matters worse, Nakoma had trouble breathing while under anesthesia and had to be rushed to Wadsworth’s veterinary practice for artificial respiration. Wadsworth resuscitated Nakoma, but in those critical minutes afterward, they had to make a decision.

They decided to euthanize the 2-year-old male.

“It was very difficult,” said Wadsworth, a veterinarian at Carrollwood Cats who had been treating the lion for 1 1/2 years. “It was hard on everyone there, but that’s part of what we have to do. We have to think of their quality of life.”

Nakoma sadly crossed Rainbow Bridge on July 12, 1998 at the age of 2.


Roxie Luce Engessor was Nakoma’s breeder and the one who dumped him at a pig and goat auction. Her son, Robert Engessor is the one we were constantly going after and has his own 911 page for more info. Roxie was Gee Gee’s sister.  I forget the exact connection, but I’m pretty sure that the Engessors were also related to Kay and Clay Rosaire who run the Circus down in Sarasota called Big cat habitat.

Gee Gee Engesser was more than an animal trainer who performed with obedient elephants, galloping horses, arctic sled dogs and other animals in circus arenas and on stages throughout North America.

FBI agent Farabow testified that Robert Engessor of Jungle Safari in Trenton, FL,  a frequent purchaser of cubs from Joe Exotic,  bought cubs from him on November 22,  2017,  in Kokomo,  Indiana.  Farabow interviewed Engessor and determined that sale is what gave Joe the cash to hire Alan Glover who was the alleged hit man hired by Joe.  In other recorded calls Joe Exotic admitted that he had shot five tigers,  one of the wildlife crimes for which he was eventually convicted.

Another rescue, Snorkel tiger was born in 1996 to the same abuser who bred Nakoma the lion, Roxy Luce.  She breeds lions and tigers and uses them to make money by selling you a photo of you holding a cute little cub.  The general public just doesn’t understand what could be wrong with this? Typically, these cubs are starved, deprived of bone building calcium and even poisoned to give them constant diarrhea so that they cannot gain weight.  Exhibitors do this because the cubs are only profitable while they are small.  According to FL state law, the public cannot touch the cubs once they reach 45 pounds.  Then they are discarded.

Snorkel was given to a small, family-operated circus (Lance Ramos) when he exceeded 45 pounds at the age of 6 months. Because he had been so deprived of nutrition, he was very tiny and stands on little stunted legs.  The other bigger circus tigers beat him up and one bit him across the nose so severely that, when he chuffs, it sounds like he is drowning, thus his name.  He has never had soft grass to roll in or a pool or mountain cave to call his own before coming to Big Cat Rescue.  He has been one of the happiest tigers we have ever rescued.

We had to say goodbye to another one of our great cats this afternoon.  Thank you everyone for caring for him all of these years, you truly provided Snorkel the best possible life and he let everyone know with his enthusiastic chuffs.

“I think it’s important for people to know how the network of abuse is a very small one in which all of the players seem to know each other or are related to each other and people who love animals so far outnumber them, that is a war we can win.” ~ Carole Baskin

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