Tampa Bay’s Big Cat Rescue

It was an easy breezy Saturday morn when I set out from my home with a close friend of mine to check out Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue. The animal attraction is only a good five miles away from my place and after three plus years of living in the area the perfect opportunity finally presented itself and I took the bull by the horns or in this case I should say the cat by the tail, or wait whiskers… Bad joke, guys. In all seriousness, please don’t grab any cat by the whiskers.

The Big Cat Rescue is a sanctuary for wild cats and I believe one of the worlds largest. The BCR provides a permanent retirement home for more than 100 lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, servals, caracals and sand cats to name only a few exotic felines. Most of the cats come from a turbulent past of cross-breeding, circus stages, and other sad tales which I’ll touch on later.

When we pulled up into the unpaved lot of the rescue leaves were blowing everywhere and there were several cheery volunteers up early waiting for each visitor’s arrival. Before entering you have sign off on a few simple rules. For instance teasing the big 400 lb. tiger is not advised and getting too close to the smaller servals could result in a nice bath of feline perfume. Follow the rules and you’re bound to have an enjoyable trip through the grounds. Our guide for the day was Denny, a volunteer who had been with the BCR for quite a while and a passionate animal lover. He jumped right into leading us through the path of the sanctuary. He described each cat like they were one of his grand-children and told the rest of us how we could get involved volunteering with the organization.

The group walks down the path to check out the next big kitty on the property.

If I’m not mistaken this would be Nikita and if I have the right cat then Nikita’s story is just the beginning of several horrific animal abuse tales Denny shared with us. To say the least, Nikita was found chained to a wall in a crack house during a drug bust in Tennessee.
I’ve never been a huge cat lover to be honest. I’ve lived with cats on occasion, but never by request really. Seeing all these beautiful animals, I could easily understand why someone might want to own one for show, but would imagine they’d be hell to take care of once they gain three times my weight and their teeth and paws grow into mighty fangs and claws. Denny revealed that a good many of the abused cats came from wealthy homes with owners that didn’t know what to do once the cats got a little bit bigger. There were some stories of cats being starved to keep them from growing so that they could be used in photographs with people and children. Our guide was also packed with information on what happens when animal and man interact when they very well shouldn’t. Most stories ended in a human being killed and the animal accused of murder though it was only doing what came natural. I could go on here, but I wouldn’t be nearly as good as our guide Denny or any guide leading the tours at the Big Cat Rescue, which is why I suggest if you’re in the Tampa, FL area to pay a visit to this attraction and sanctuary. Here are just a few more photos from my adventure in and out and details below on how to make your own day trip down.

Meet Cloe, a snow leopard with a very unusual away of saying hello or perhaps she is warning us to get away. My friend found her behavior very, very odd.

This African Lion, Cameron relaxes with his back turned to our group. He turned his head occasionally so that we could get a glimpse of his beautiful side profile, but otherwise stayed put.

Zabu is far to lazy to strike a pose for us during our visit, but after hearing the story of this white tigress I can happily excuse her for being so bored with our presence and cameras.

My memory fails to remind which bobcat this is exactly. I want to say Raindance, but in any event check out the BCR site to read the stories of this bobcat and the others. From escaping being slaughtered for their fur to departing owners that couldn’t tolerate their urinating on the floor they are as heart-wrenching as the rest.

Again, I can’t recall the name of this tiger. There are many at the BCR that come from the circus.

If you can’t make it to the Big Cat Rescue in person, start by paying a virtual visit to their website. It is loaded with pictures, information and more importantly ways to contribute to the organization and how to adopt one of the cats. Join them during one of the feeding tours or experience the animals during a night tour when almost all of them to come out. The night tour is one that I’m hoping to take part in one of these days on my next visit and sounds like a real treat as mentioned by my day guide, Denny. To find out more about the various tours, programs, hours, prices and how to get to the Big Cat Rescue click here.