While our friends were at work we visited the Big Cat Sanctuary in Tampa. This unique place began in 1992 when the owner bought a bob cat for a pet in Minnesota. She discovered that even small wild cats do not make good pets. They might bond with one member of the family, but would be a menace to everyone else. When she asked what would happen to the other bob cats there, she was told that if no one bought them for pets, they would be turned into fur coats. She couldn't bear the thought and converted a plot of land she owned here into a sanctuary and bought them all. Although she started with small cats, word soon spread and she found herself hosting large ones - tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, etc. as well. These animals come from a variety of different unsuitable settings. One was used by a drug dealer to keep authorities off of his property. Others were breeding rejects as breeders try to create exotic combinations like ligers or white tigers. Infants whose mothers have been killed are hand raised. Others were performers in private zoos and small circuses.
The 45 acre site provides space and privacy for each animal. Some, especially the lions. like to live in groups, but most prefer their own territory. The large wire cages are curved and contain trees and water holes for those cats that enjoy a dip. They also have cave like enclosures so they can hide whenever they feel like being alone. The cages are designed to withstand category 4 hurricanes. It would be quite a disaster if the 120 cats here got loose during a severe storm. Taking care of these animals cost a great deal. The large cats eat $1200 worth of meat a month. A large volunteer staff cleans every cage every day using tools that reach through the cage wires.
We were amazed to hear how easy it is to buy a lion or tiger cub and how little this trade is regulated. It's no surprise that many of these creatures quickly outgrow their homes and that the population of the Big Cat Sanctuary grows ever larger. An impressive but somewhat troubling operation.