Tucked away and almost hidden in a suburb of Tampa, Florida called Citrus Park, is a sanctuary for Exotic Cats and when driving down the main highway lined with strip centers and a big shopping mall, one would never know that back behind all this, is 67 acres of Big Cat habitat.
It is important to me in the writing of this post that I strike a good balance between four key take away’s of our visit to Big Cat Rescue. First it is a fun and informative way to spend a few hours of your time. Second, it is important that people do visit, as it is the admission fees and donations that keep them operating. Third, the work they do is necessary and admirable. Fourth, it is ashamed that they have to exist in the first place.
Visiting Big Cat Rescue is by pre-booked tour only and on the tour you will hear the story of each individual cat you see. Some of the stories are very sad, as these cats are sometimes rescued from deplorable conditions. I found myself feeling both sad and then encouraged when hearing about the journey of these cats, as yes some of them came from horrible conditions but it was uplifting to see that they are being so well cared for now.
The volunteers and employees of Big Cat Rescue really show a love for their work and for the cats, knowing the story of each cat they work with and taking great care to guide us through keeping each cat’s personality in mind. A few of the cats are very skeptical about humans as they associate humans with the abuse they endured in their past. In these cases the guides gently walk you by their habitat being careful to not let the tour make the cat feel threatened. One story that really hit it home for me was of a rescue who until it came to Big Cat, had only lived in a small cage and had never set foot on grass.
It is sad to know that a large exotic cat can legally be kept in a cage it’s entire life with minimal regulations on it’s exercise requirements. It was astonishing to me to see the size of a legal size cage.
The Cat residents at Big Cat Rescue have come from all over the world and in some cases this will be their forever home. This 67 acre sanctuary is constructed in a way that the cats well being is at heart and the safety of the humans who care for them and visit them is priority. Ideally in a perfect world these cats would be in the wild, but due to injury and inability to survive on their own in the wild, they have to remain here, and the Big Cat Rescue has done well in giving them a habitat that is both comfortable and spacious. In some cases air-conditioned walls and dens are provided for the cats that are not accustomed to the hot Florida climate.
Not all the cats at Big Cat Rescue came from terrible conditions, some are there because their owners could no longer care for them and gave them up willingly to Big Cat Rescue, recognizing that the well being of the animal should be the most important consideration.
The tour we took lasted about 90 minutes and in that time we got to see some of the most beautiful tigers, cougars, panthers, bobcats, lionesses and serval cats, very close up. It was absolutely thrilling to be so near these animals and to be able to appreciate their beauty.
Before the tour begins you will be given safety instructions and a little history of the Rescue itself and at the end of the tour you will learn the different ways that each of us can make a difference in the lives of these cats and in the future prevention of exotic cat abuse.
You have different tour options available and due to limited space all tours must be reserved by advance ticket purchase. Note that a waiver must be signed before your tour and children under 10 are only allowed on the children’s tour on select date and times. Ticket prices begin at $39.00 for adults and $29.00 for children and an adult must accompany each child. Big Cat Rescue is located at 12802 Easy Street in Tampa.
To see these beautiful cats 24/7 visit the live cam at explore.org and choose cat rescue.
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