Protecting a Sanctuary: Big Cat Rescue
By JASON GEARY, The Tampa Tribune
Published: February 9, 2008
CITRUS PARK – Concerned about development and an incident that involved teenagers shooting paintballs at leopards, Big Cat Rescue officials began the first phase of installing a 10-foot-tall wall around the sanctuary’s property.
The wall is a major project for the nonprofit organization, which operates with an annual budget of about $1 million.
Howard Baskin, Big Cat Rescue advisory board chairman, said it cost about $106,000 to install about 940 feet. An additional $20,000 will be spent on two gates.
More donations are necessary to finish the goal: enclosing the remaining 6,000 feet around the refuge’s 45 acres.
Big Cat Rescue cares for about 146 exotic cats, including cougars, tigers, bobcats and lions. On some feeding days, the refuge uses up to 500 pounds of meat.
Baskin said many of the felines suffered abuse, neglect and abandonment before being taken to the sanctuary. Some were retired from performing in acts. Others were bred to be pets or to be killed for their fur.
In addition to taking care of the cats, Big Cat Rescue also seeks to educate people about them, he said.
Tour guides who take visitors on trips into the refuge make sure no taunting of the cats takes place, he said.
Baskin said the cats are contained with specially designed wire cages, and staff members follow safety procedures.
The cats are kept in cages with “safety entrances” – or passageways leading into the cages with locked doors on each end.
Only the most experienced staff members have keys accessing these padlocked doors. After entering through the first door, staff members secure the door behind them before proceeding down the tunnel to the second door into the cage.
As a secondary barrier, the perimeter of the refuge is surrounded with a chain-link fence with barbed wire and an electrified wire on top, he said.
Baskin said the new concrete wall is primarily meant to keep humans from getting inside or disturbing the cats.
About a year ago, some teenagers shot paintballs though the chain-link fencing at leopards, he said.
“The father worked with us to ensure it wouldn’t happen again,” Baskin said.
However, the incident, along with the prospect of development, created a sense of urgency to get the wall project going, he said.
Property outside the northwestern portion of Big Cat Rescue could become town homes, Baskin said.
That area was selected as the starting point for the new wall.
When selecting a formidable barrier, Baskin said he researched and chose a precast concrete wall system rather than blocks.
Columns were put into the ground, and then concrete panels were slid into place between them. The majority of the work was completed in about four days.
Scott Powlus, an operations coordinator for Brooksville-based Duratek Precast Technologies, said the large panels, each weighing about 6,500 pounds, required a crane to lift them into place.
The columns are 180 inches long and buried about 60 inches deep in concrete, Powlus said. The wall can withstand 146-mph winds, he said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Big Cat Rescue
WHERE: 12802 Easy Street, Tampa
INFORMATION: Visit www.big catrescue.org/
BIG CAT RESCUE
TOTAL ACREAGE: 45
NUMBER OF CATS: 146
ANNUAL BUDGET: $1 million
PAID STAFF: 7
VOLUNTEERS: about 100
LENGTH OF A PLANNED PERIMETER WALL: 7,000 feet
LENGTH OF PERIMETER WALL COMPLETED: 940 feet
COST OF WALL PROJECT THUS FAR: $126,000
ESTIMATED COST FOR 1 FOOT OF WALL: $100
Reporter Jason Geary can be reached at (813) 865-1505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.