Big Cat Rescue

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Big Cat Rescue
Location Tampa, Florida, United States

Big Cat Rescue is an animal sanctuary near Tampa, Florida, United States, devoted to rescuing and housing exotic felines, rehabilitating injured or orphaned native wild cats, and ending the private trade and ownership of exotic cats via educational outreach and legislation. As of August 2015, the center is home to 19 big cats and 67 small cats.[1] Big Cat Rescue has sheltered binturongs, bobcats, caracals, civets, cougars, Geoffroy's cats, leopards, lions, lynxes, ocelots, sand cats, servals, and tigers.[2]

The sanctuary is located on 67 acres (27 ha) in the Citrus Park area of North Tampa.[3] In 2014, Big Cat Rescue received over 27,000 visitors.[4] Big Cat Rescue began operating in 1992, and bills itself as "the largest accredited sanctuary in the world dedicated entirely to abused and abandoned big cats." It is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and is a member of World Animal Protection.[3][5]


Big Cat Rescue started on November 4, 1992.[3] Previously the sanctuary was a conservation organization known as Wildlife on Easy Street, which featured a bed and breakfast experience that allowed guests to spend the night with a young wild cat in their cabin.[6][7] According to the sanctuary, this part of its history was a misguided effort to aid captive conservation and animal welfare of privately-owned animals.[8] The company became a nonprofit in 1995.[4]

In September 2000, Wildlife on Easy Street applied to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for accreditation as a Certified Related Facility. The application was denied in March 2001 for various reasons, including concerns about the amount of visitor contact with the cats, lack of any trained zoological professionals on staff, insufficient formal veterinary programs and unfinished perimeter fencing.[9]

In 2013, following a 2011 lawsuit, Joe Schreibvogel, aka "Joe Exotic", whose family runs the GW Exotic Animal Park, was ordered to pay Big Cat Rescue $1 million for using confusingly similar trademarked materials.[10]

A story by Tampa television station WTSP in 2011 discussed numerous concerns raised by critics about the way Big Cat Rescue operated, including lack of transparency, animal law violations resulting in USDA citations, inadequate fencing that could potentially result in animal escapes, and describing animals taken in by the sanctuary as being rescued from poor conditions while in reality they were kept and raised properly and in a loving home.[11] The story included criticism from Joe Schreibvogel, who at the time was suing Big Cat Rescue.[11]

In October 2014, Big Cat Rescue was issued a warning by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for letting a leopard into an enclosure that was insufficiently secured for this species, which could have resulted in an escape.[12][13] The warning was issued after a complaint by a wildlife rescuer who also runs a shelter for big cats in the Tampa area.[12]

In November 2014, a routine inspection performed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found more than 80 concerns and violations, mainly pertaining to poor conditions of enclosures.[2] The inspection also noted that "All animals appeared to be healthy with food and fresh water provided. All enclosures had the proper enrichment, shelter and are maintained in sanitary conditions."[2] No citations or warnings were issued.[2]


One of the main goals of Big Cat Rescue is to end ownership and trade of exotic felines in the private sector entirely.[14] Big Cat Rescue claims that permit systems are not effective at ensuring animal welfare and campaigns for a total ban of private ownership of big cats regardless of keeping conditions.[15] The center is part of the International Tiger Coalition, which is dedicated to stopping the trade of tiger parts.[16]

In 2005, Big Cat Rescue published an action plan to end all captive keeping of all exotic cats, including animals in AZA-accredited zoos bred for conservation.[17] According to the plan, Big Cat Rescue wanted interstate transport of big cats for any reason (including conservation breeding programs) to end by 2012, display of large exotic cats in zoos to end by 2013 and keeping of any exotic cats (including smaller species) in zoos to be discontinued by 2015.[17]

In 2015, owner Carole Baskin began campaigning for the passage of a bill in the United States Congress called The Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 3546)[18] that would ban all future keeping of all large cat species in the United States, with zoos certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, as well as certain sanctuaries, universities, wildlife rehabilitators, and traveling circuses being exempt.[19]


In January 2011, the center received attention for its rescue of "Skip", a bobcat, who had likely been hit by a car on Florida State Road 46 and had a crushed pelvis. Fans of Skip who watched his recovery on Ustream organized on Facebook, calling themselves "Skipaholics". These fans contributed money for cameras, cat beds, and other equipment. Skip died in September 2012.[20][21][22]


  1. ^ "Big Cat Rescue Corp". Animal Care Information System. USDA. Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Captive Wildlife Inspections Form" (PDF). Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. November 7, 2014. Retrieved October 21, 2015 – via 
  3. ^ a b c "Credentials". Big Cat Rescue. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Finances". Big Cat Rescue. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries". Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  6. ^ Janson, Mary Lou; Foster, Lee (April 12, 1998). "Strange Bedfellows At Tampa's Wildlife On Easy Street". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  7. ^ LaPeter Anton, Leonora (November 11, 2007). "The Big Cat Fight". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  8. ^ "History & Evolution of Big Cat Rescue". Big Cat Rescue. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  9. ^ "AZA Denied WOES Application for Certification". June 2001. p. 12. Retrieved October 23, 2015 – via Internet Archive. 
  10. ^ Knittle, Andrew (March 4, 2013). "'Joe Exotic' Ordered to Pay Florida Animal Sanctuary $1 million". The Oklahoman. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Deeson, Mike (September 30, 2011). "10 News Investigators Raise Questions About Big Cat Rescue". WTSP. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b "Complaint Filed Against Big Cat Rescue over Leopard". The Tampa Tribune. October 7, 2014. Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Captive Wildlife Inspections Form" (PDF). Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. October 2, 2014. Retrieved October 21, 2015 – via 
  14. ^ "Why Regulations Don't Work". Big Cat Rescue. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Why Regulations Don't Work and Big Cat Bans are Needed". Big Cat Rescue (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  16. ^ "International Tiger Coalition". Big Cat Rescue. May 23, 2011. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  17. ^ a b "20 Yr Plan". 2005-10-30. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  18. ^ "H.R. 3546". Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  19. ^ Greenwood, Arin (October 9, 2015). "There Are More Captive Tigers In The U.S. Than In The Wild Worldwide. This Bill Could Change That". The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  20. ^ Snow, Christine (January 13, 2011). "Injured Bobcat Rescued Along S.R. 46 Licking Wounds at Tampa Facility". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  21. ^ Tataris, Anna (January 29, 2011). "Bobcat Recovery Streaming Online". Bay News 9. Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  22. ^ "Skip the Bobcat Rescue". Big Cat Rescue. Retrieved October 21, 2015. 

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