The issues that exotic cats are facing here in the United States may be relatively unknown but they are critical nonetheless. Did you know that reportedly there are more tigers in backyards in both the state of Texas and Florida than there are left in the wild in India? I didn’t either until I visited Big Cat Rescue (BCR) in Tampa, FL and learned just how big this problem really is. I was able to spend an afternoon with Jeff Kremer, Director of Donor Appreciation at BCR to understand more about the reality of what’s happening to exotic cats, meet some of the cats living at their sanctuary and learn what they’re doing to educate people so eventually, we can reduce or completely eliminate the need for exotic cat sanctuaries.
BCR is a non-profit charity that gives sanctuary to unwanted and abused exotic cats. They sit on 55 acres in Tampa, FL and house over 100 cats representing 14 species. They come to live here for several reasons. They are retired from circuses, roadside zoos and other performing acts, saved from being slaughtered for their fur or rescued from people’s backyards when they realize a grown tiger doesn’t make such a good pet after all. Unfortunately in approximately half of our states breeding and selling exotic cats is perfectly legal and in most cases they end up abused or are unable to be properly cared for. That’s when BCR steps in.
The sanctuary is quite impressive. The grounds are beautiful and lush. The enclosures are species specific which allows each cat to live and play a bit more like they would in the wild. They have room to roam, they are able to interact with other cats (when it's deemed safe for them to do so), they have "toys" to play with and can swim in the lake on the property. Yet, as impressive as BCR is, as Jeff and I walked the sanctuary my emotions were mixed. I felt grateful and sad at the same time. It seems unfair that animals as beautiful and majestic as these should live anywhere other than free in their native habitat. But because of their circumstances, being released into the wild is not an option and I felt grateful that BCR exists to give these animals a safe and loving home for the rest of their days. They were born into a life of captivity and as Jeff said "we give them the best life we can making the best out of a bad situation".
Sanctuaries, while wonderful and serving a purpose, are merely a band aid for a larger problem. So what can we do to make a difference? How can we fix the issue at the source so cats like this will never have to live in someone’s back yard or never be exploited by roadside zoos and pay to play gimmicks? I asked Jeff that very question and he gave three suggestions.
It’s time we all know what happens behind the scenes at animal performing acts. It’s time we understand why buying a cute little tiger cub as a pet isn’t offering a good life to that animal no matter how good our intentions may be. It’s time we know what legislation is pending and how our collective voices can make a difference.
Life is an evolution and as we continuously learn, we have the ability to change our behavior. The more we know the more good we can do. The key is we have to WANT to learn. It would be great if we could take a step back and understand the impact our decisions have on others, and that includes animals.
Speak with our wallet.
If we choose not to support organizations and breeders that exploit animals, demand will be reduced and supply will have nowhere to go but down. That means fewer exotic cats being bred into captivity, being abused, being abandoned and being exploited.
Jeff and I walked and talked so long, we were the last two people left at the end of the day. As we were getting up to leave I had to ask him one last question. My Voice’s mission is to be a voice for the animals so I wanted to know what he thought their cats would say if they could speak. Without skipping a beat he answered “I think they would say thank you”. After spending time with these animals and hearing their stories, I would have to agree.
If you would
like to learn more about Big Cat Rescue or donate directly to them, click here
to visit their website.
Want to see
videos of their cats? Click
here for BCR You Tube videos.
If you would
like to learn more about pending legislation in your area and how your voice
can be heard visit www.catlaws.com
If you would
like to learn more about the business of animal captivity, the book A Zoo
Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French is a recommended
read. Click here to find the book on