The Karen Files

Big Cat Rescue

A couple of Saturday’s ago a friend and I went to the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. http://bigcatrescue.org/

What a fantastic place! It is a non-profit sanctuary for big cats – not giant domesticated house cats, but wild animals like lions and tigers and leopards, oh my!

Many of the cats who live there were once pets that either became too much for the owner to handle, or were rescued from abuse or drug lords.

Big Cat Rescue stresses that these animals might seem tame, but they are in fact wild animals who were meant to be free. The Rescue will only keep animals that have no way of ever being reintroduced to the wild – which is the case if the animals were de-clawed or they had never lived in the wild and therefore have no way of knowing how to survive. Big Cat Rescue stressed that they didn’t like having to keep these cats locked up. They actually felt that hese animals were in jail. The cages the cats are kept in are large enough to allow them to live the rest of their lives as comfortably as possible, but they aren’t free – and they never will be.

The keepers and volunteers who work there make sure that no one ever touches the animals – even they won’t. That might seem a bit harsh or tough on the cats who were once pets and touched by humans daily, but in reality (according to the keepers), the touch of a human is not very important to the cats. Cats (even house cats) are extremely clean. If they are touched, they will spend a lot of time cleansing themselves of the oils from our hands. Not touching the animals just eliminates an extra stressor from the cat’s life.

The Big Cat Rescue taught us that the companies who let you hold lion or tiger cubs for a picture while charging a fee are actually perpetuating animal abuse. Those cubs are often bred just to be used in this manner – as photo slaves. Many of these cubs who do survive to adulthood are sold to the pet trade, or put into tiny cages for the rest of their life. The companies who offer this service may say that they are using the money to help “save the big cats” but in reality, they are using the “adorable” little cubs to make a quick buck. It may be tempting to get that once-in-a-lifetime picture of you holding a baby lion or tiger, but just think – you really aren’t doing the animals any favors, and you may actually be hurting them in the process.

And now I am sure you are all curious about the cats I saw. And yes, I did get some very good pictures, however I didn’t take any notes during our tour so I am not always positive about the names and particular stories of the individual animals I took pictures of.

Here is a beautiful leopard who was watching us much more closely than we watched her…

This leopard really is a much more ferocious cat than she looks here. She had her tongue hanging out while gazing at us, which gave her a bit of a comical look, but believe me, you wouldn’t want to be trapped in the cage with her!

Since I am starting with leopards, here is another leopard we saw later in the tour. This picture is a little bit clearer…

Below is a black leopard that didn’t want to come out into the open to see us. At the Big Cat Rescue, they will never force the cats into the open. Some cats might be hidden somewhere in their enclosures where you won’t be able to see them at all, and some might feel like hamming up to the crowd. It really is all up to the cat!

This next cat was a cougar who really liked working the crowd. I think she enjoyed being the center of attention:

This female cougar is named “Enya”. It almost looks like she is smiling at us in the picture. She was playing with the tire (much to our delight) as we walked up to her. Luckily, I got video. You can see her in action in the video below on YouTube!

Below is Zabu. White tigers like Zabu are very popular with zoo patrons, but in reality white tigers could never exist in the wild. There is no way they would be able to sneak up on their prey or hide from hunters. Humans will breed them specifically for the gene that makes them lose their orange color.

Zabu came from Benson’s Animal Farm (does anyone remember that?) and she came to the Big Cat Rescue fully equipped with her very own lion. They were a bonded pair and it was hoped that the two would mate and produce a white liger. That never did happen, and now it never will – both were spayed and/or neutered when they came to the Big Cat Rescue. The lion was sleeping in a den when we were there, so I don’t have any pictures of him.

Speaking of ligers, they have no ligers at the Big Cat Rescue. They had one, but it died not long before I visited. Ligers are created when a male lion mates with a female tiger (not to be confused with tigons, which are created when a female lion mates with a male tiger). Ligers are not possible in the wild – they are only bred in captivity. Ligers tend to be much bigger than their mother OR their father, usually around twice as big, and they have the color of a lion with the stripes of a tiger. Generally they are infertile when born, so we are generally not able to mate to create second generation ligers.

Now on to the tiger:

This guy was feeling lazy when we saw him, and pretty much ignored us when we were looking.

Well, I am going to wrap this entry up now. There were plenty more cats, and I do have pictures of them, but I wanted to at least show you the most well known ones before I ended this post. There were also plenty of bobcats, ocelots, lynx’s, sand cats,  etc. In fact, if you want to learn more about this place and you have an iPhone or iPod touch, you can download their app for only $1.99! It’s called “Big Cat Rescue” and all the profits go to help the big cats. There are some really wonderful pictures and interesting tidbits about the animals. Go get it!

This coming weekend, I’ll be going with a couple of friends to another big cat sanctuary, which has a slightly different way of doing things. I haven’t been there, but judging from their website, it looks as though they actually interact with their animals – which is just what the Big Cat Rescue condemns. It should be interesting to see how this new place justifies “playing” with their wild animals. Right now I think the Big Cat Rescue has it right – these are not domesticated pets, they are wild animals. But maybe the next place will change my mind. I will keep you posted!


  1. Loved the post Karen. Great pictures and video too. Yes, I remember Bensons Animal Park. It was only about 20 miles away from where we used to live in New Hampshire. I think I remember them having a white tiger when we went there, some 30 years ago.

  2. Zabu! I can't believe they named a tiget Zabu! Thats so cool! (not that anyone will know who Zabu is, because I'm just a geek) but anyhow- cool pics :) Seems like a neat place!

  3. Thanks guys! And Cheryl, I did not know who Zabu is. But I looked it up :)

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