The Girl is a BIG fan of animals, thanks to a steady diet of “The Wild Kratts” on PBS. A trip to Tampa allowed us to visit Big Cat Rescue, the largest accredited sanctuary in the country, and possibly the world, dedicated entirely to abused and abandoned big cats.
Big Cat Rescue is home to some 100 lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and other wild cats, who live in enclosed habitats on 67 acres in the Citrus Park area of north Tampa. These majestic creatures were, for the most part, former pets or victims of the “pet trade,” who were mistreated or abandoned. Some had been used for performing acts and were no longer wanted. The mission here is to end the abuse and abandonment of captive exotic animals and promote preservation of the species in the wild.
After learning all this, I explained to the kids that this was not a zoo, and these animals were not there for our entertainment, but because this was the safest place for them to live now that they were no longer accustomed to living in the wild. It was important for them to know that, although I tried to keep the message lighthearted for my six-year old.
You get to learn the cats’ individual stories along the way, both from the tour guide and from the posted signs which provide their name, the date they came to the Rescue, and where they were found. In many cases, this is an eye-opener. Divinity the Bobcat, for example, was rescued from a fur farm.
In all, there are 14 species of cats, including tigers, lions, leopards, cougars, bobcats, lynx, servals, ocelots, caracals, jungle cats, leopard cats and a Geoffroy cat.
We don’t keep a checklist of all the animal species we’ve ever seen in real life, but if we did, we would certainly have checked a few off the list that day! Ever heard of a serval? I hadn’t, but we saw one of the mere 167 in captivity anywhere in the world!
Big Cat Rescue Tours
You can only visit Big Cat Rescue on a guided tour, and you have to stay with your group at all times. Although our guide did give us ample time to admire the cats and take pictures, she was very insistent that we keep up with the group when she moved on. Not all tours are open to children. For children under 10, your only option is the one-hour “Kids Tour” at 9:00AM on Saturdays and Sundays. Older kids have the option of joining you on the “Keeper Tour,” the “Feeding Tour,” and the “Wild Eyes at Night” tour. Keep in mind that the dirt paths are not easy to push strollers through. We went the day after it rained, and there were a lot of mud puddles to navigate.
I found the admission fees (ranging from $36.00-$125.00 per person) a little pricey, but understood that this is a nonprofit, and the costs cover the care and feeding of these beautiful animals. At the end of your tour, you can sponsor a cat in the gift shop. This is a great way to extend your child’s experience and do even more good.
Hey YOU! Go BIG!
Big Cat Rescue
12802 Easy Street, Tampa, FL 33625