By Sean Crumpacker
In 1993, Carole Baskin drove to Minnesota to visit a breeder with the intention of purchasing a pet bobcat cub. Rather than a cattery, they found a fur farm.
Partially skinned bobcats and lynxes were left lying on the floor and they learned that of the 56 kittens available, those that were not sold would be skinned next year. The pair agreed to purchase all of the owner’s felines, provided he would no longer make coats out of cats. He accepted.
They travelled home to a then-40 acre site in Citrus Park where they began to build cages. Thus, Big Cat Rescue was formed.
Big Cat Rescue is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and rehabilitation of exotic cats alongside banning private possession of the animals. It works against circuses who abuse big cats for performances, fur farms which slaughter felines for their coats and misinformed pet owners who think wild, exotic cats can ever be as tame as their smaller, domesticated counterparts.
Big Cat Rescue is accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries. Additionally, Charity Navigator gave it a rating of four stars—Charity Navigator’s highest rating. All donations received by the sanctuary go towards caring for its 60+ wild cats; all of its non-program expenses come from the income generated by its tours, so you can rest assured that any donations made to the sanctuary will go entirely to the cause.
The sanctuary hosts regular tours, allowing visitors to come to its 67-acre site to view the cats as close as safely possible for both onlookers and the felines. Guests are given a radio and an earbud to listen to recordings detailing each cat’s backstory and the circumstances which brought them to the “retirement home” Big Cat Rescue aims to be.
It is worth noting that some of the cats were rescued from upsetting and disturbing circumstances. Listening to each story is a truly eye-opening experience for those uneducated about big cats’ struggles and will eradicate any beliefs that these cats belong in private captivity.
The only way to see the cats is to attend a tour, but luckily, there are plenty of options. The Day Tour is the standard experience which takes guests around the sanctuary to learn about the cats and the horrors of big cat abuse.
The Feeding Tour takes place in the morning rather than the afternoon, when the cats get their meals and are generally more active.
The Keeper Tour is a longer, more in-depth look at the sanctuary geared towards those interested in more than just the cats.
Lastly, the Kids Tour is geared towards children under 10, who are not allowed to attend the other tours.
For more information or to book a tour, visit https://bigcatrescue.org/tickets/. Additionally, check out the rest of the sanctuary’s website for more information about big cat abuse and how even a single individual can play a role in putting an end to it.