Published: December 17, 2009
Scott Lope says that if he becomes Animal Planet's "Hero of the Year" he might visit Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The top prize in the annual event is a $15,000 animal-related trip to anywhere in the world. But a win will also mean $10,000 for Big Cat Rescue, the Tampa-based refuge for lions, tigers, leopards and other large exotic animals.
Animal Planet will announce the 2009 Animal Hero of the Year at 10 p.m. Friday and Lope, 41, who has worked for Big Cat Rescue for 16 years, is one of the finalists.
"It would be an honor to win and it will call attention to our work here," he says.
Lope, who gave up a career in medicine to work with animals, is operations manager at Big Cat Rescue which cares for more than 100 animals.
He also has become the go-to guy for television networks looking for commentary on wild animals. In addition to numerous appearances on Animal Planet and History, he has been featured on Discovery Channel, ABC's "20/20," CNN and Jack Hanna's "Animal Adventures."
But his nomination for "Hero of the Year" is based on his work at Big Cat Rescue. More than 4,000 animal lovers and care workers were nominated. So getting into the top 10 was already an honor, he says.
The winner has been selected from an online vote that took place between September and November.
Big Cat Rescue is planning a watching party beginning at 7 p.m. Friday night at Whiskey Joe's restaurant on the Courtney Campbell Parkway (State Road 60). Visit Big Cat's Web site at bigcatrescue.org for details. Lope will be signing autographs and there is an opportunity to get a free pass for a tour at Big Cat Rescue.
Reporter Walt Belcher can be reached at (813} 259-7654
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
Free ways to join us and help the big cats:
Vote for us at VoteCats.com
Twitter: Follow Me and be invited to enter our Animal Lover's Dream Vacation Giveaway! @BigCatRescue