Posted: 8:31 am Sunday, November 5th, 2017
By Ann Kelly
It’s hard to describe exactly how I felt hearing a lion’s roar early on a Saturday morning while walking through Big Cat Rescue. After all, I had just gone through the drive-through right next to the sanctuary for a latte not five minutes before and now I was in the middle of one of the most precious places in Tampa Bay. Big Cat Rescue is in the Citrus Park area and was there long before there was a mall, subdivisions and what you probably think of the whole area as being now. But twenty-five years ago Big Cat Rescue began their mission to rescue abused and abandoned big cats. The cats that call this home live a life free of cages they may have been trapped in most of their lives, free from being hunted for their fur, free from those who those who thought they’d make an interesting pet, free from their abusers.
That lion’s roar? That is Joseph who was rescued just over ten years ago and now reigns over his lakeside habitat. That roar will get you attention in a big hurry – take a look at the video from my Instagram feed! Founder and CEO Carole Baskin and I walked around the sanctuary and was nowhere near Joseph when I first heard his “good morning and who are you?” welcoming roar. That roar can carry over five miles! There is a very personal relationship between the staff and their residents that number somewhere around 80, and their worldwide audience that joins them daily when they do everything from show us how they are fed, given their medications, sent on “vacation” and I’ve even seen live surgeries. The big cats all have names and stories like Joseph; the orphaned, rescued bobcat Cooper; and Artemis, a cougar who was orphaned after a hunter shot her mother leaving three cubs behind. The cats live good lives at Big Cat, and more often longer lives than they would have lived in the wild.
When I join them for a live feed I enjoy seeing the comments from fans who want to know how their favorites are doing, ask about the work and the staff, and yes, mourn but also celebrate the lives of big cats that pass away. Carole shares the good times and the sad times online. I’ve cried a few times since my visit after reading about the loss of another cat. Most recently that was Sassy the cougar who died in her sleep, peacefully. All their lives are memorialized and are never forgotten.
There are many ways to show love and support for Big Cat Rescue. Carole and the staff work tirelessly to change laws and to keep big cats safe and always welcome help with getting the word out to legislators. Your voice can make a difference and it’s easy to do. You can volunteer, intern, and who doesn’t love a gift shop? You can choose the option of Amazon Smile to have a portion of your purchase donated and through their fund raisers. But if you haven’t yet made a visit to Big Cat Rescue make it a point to do that soon. The passion and dedication of the staff is infectious and may just make you a strong advocate for the big cats as well. Follow their daily lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and more. I’ve signed up for the live notifications and it’s a wonderful way to educate yourself, your family and others on how to make a difference with just one click. Big Cat Rescue is located on Easy Street in Tampa in the Citrus Park area. You are welcome to visit but you must make a reservation first.
Thank you to Carole, the staff and residents of Big Cat Rescue for hosting my visit. It was a heartwarming morning that will be repeated many times.
All photographs are by Ashely Greco and may not be reproduced or shared without permission.