Small Cat Fun
On 12/2/2013 we launched a campaign on LoveAnimals.org called Give Natasha Open Space. By 3/14/2014 it was "fully" funded at $30,000. That was based on our erroneous understanding of the rules in Florida when it comes to open top cages. Turns out you can put a lion, or a tiger, or a cougar in an open top cage, but not a bobcat, serval, lynx, sandcat, Geoffroy cat, caracal, ocelot or any of the leopard family. Our intention had been to build a smaller duplicate of the Vacation Rotation enclosure for the smaller cats, using the same design. Our plans were foiled when we discovered the FWC language would not permit it, although it didn't say that; it just didn't say you could, so upon further investigation we learned we couldn't. Another strange thing happened, in 2015, which was that we were absolutely under siege by black vultures.
Unlike turkey vultures, black vultures will attack and kill living animals. Both are a protected species in FL so we couldn't get rid of them. If we were going to create a safe space for our smaller cats to run, it was going to have to have a roof; both by law and because of the birds.
It's a weird phenomenon of massive numbers of vultures showing up un expectedly. We guard the cats' food while they eat, so we don't know what the attraction is, but we have to protect the cats, and thus have gone through a number of cage redesigns to make sure this will be a fun spot for the cats...and safe.
Before we knew that leopards were not going to be able to use our Vacation Rotation area we had begun construction on Leopard Island. The idea was to refurbish all of the cages in an area where we could tunnel them out to the vacay area. The area is surrounded on all sides by paths, and thus dubbed an island, despite the lack of any water feature.
Building out this Leopard Island would also give us cage space to remove leopards (Jade and Armani) who live in the area where the Small Cat Fun enclosure was to be built. Their cages were old, but salvageable, as part of the new complex, but it's a lot easier to work on a cage when it doesn't contain a top level predator.
Earlier this month (July 2015) Jade, Armani and Cheetaro were the last of the leopards to be relocated to Leopard Island so that the ground work could begin in earnest for the Small Cat Fun area.
Beginning Small Cat Fun Construction
There had been a massive fire at the property, back in the 1990's, where we had to dig huge chunks of earth out to save the cats, and those big ruts all had to be filled and leveled out. The dirt that was purchased had a lot of junk in it, which meant volunteers had to sift through all of it to be sure that nothing would be left behind to hurt the cats.
We made the area about 1/3 bigger than we had planned and had to trim 20+ trees up to the 12 foot high level so that we will be able to roof around them.
We had to tear down the old parts of the enclosure, and one other cage, to ensure that everything will line up correctly and put the old wire into use as barricades. Those barricades had to go up right away, because if we just left the wire on the ground until we finished the Small Cat Fun area, it would rust and we would have squandered a lot of money.
There is much landscaping work to be done in order to work the tunnels through the thick undergrowth behind the existing, empty cages. In order to make the most of work groups who come out for a day, we have marked out the path and have the groups who come in for a day of labor take on that project. They usually only come on week ends, but we try to save those kinds of projects for outsiders as they are least likely to come too close to a big cat. We reserve our own, well trained volunteers and interns for the more dangerous areas of work.
We now have the bottom row of wire up on the East and most of the North sides of the cage, but there will be two more rows of wire atop this one, as this is only 5 feet high. It is the basis of setting the shape of the cage to be sure we have enough curves to keep it strong in a hurricane. It rains every day, but we do strive to make progress on the Small Cat Fun cage every day. Most of the work up until now has been the sort of thing that hasn't been very interesting, for the purpose of follow up stories, but now you can actually see the progress.
Looking East down current tour path. This enclosure will span across the road, so the road and the ditches will have to be re routed to the right.
These trees and grassy areas will be in the front of the Small Cat Fun area when it is completed, but can be added in the second stage.
The covered den and feeding areas, along with the safety entrance have all been started at the South end of the Small Cat Fun space.
Standing on the tour path and looking West. The Small Cat Fun cage will eventually include the property to the left in the photo, once we re route the road and ditches.
These little bricks play a huge role in making sure the entire cage, spanning all of this space, it level. The gaps will be filled with pieces of wire that will be cut to follow the terrain.
Meanwhile, it rains every day, so we are constantly being pulled off this fun project to make sure our cats are above the latest level of flooding.