In the early 1990s, while searching for a bobcat kitten to buy as a pet, Carole Baskin stumbled onto a “fur farm.”
The organization was selling a few kittens as pets. As Carole asked more questions, she discovered the ones that could not be sold were used to make fur coats.
With a better understanding of how the bobcats were raised and treated, Carole quickly realized it was not natural to have bobcats as pets, and that they were being exploited.
She bought all 56 bobcat and lynx kittens with a goal of finding them homes among people familiar with exotic cats.
As word spread about Carole’s work, owners who could no longer manage adult felines asked her to take them. She rescued cats in abusive situations—those kept in captivity for entertainment, exhibition or profit—and began to lobby and bring national attention to the issue of big cat abuse. She worked to close facilities that exploited big cats.
Faced with a growing population of rescued exotic felines, Carole created Big Cat Rescue on her property near Tampa. The cats are cared for in an environment that approximates their life in the wild. To help finance her work, Carole offered guided tours and had fundraising events.
The rules at Big Cat Rescue are strict.
“We do no breeding in captivity, and we never buy or sell cats,” says Susan Bass, public relations director at Big Cats Rescue. “We allow no human contact or touching of the cats, and we do not take them to off-site events.
“No one at the sanctuary ever touches our cats unless they have been sedated for a medical or dental procedure in our on-site hospital. This is their home, where they are protected after being rescued from road-side attractions, circuses and other bad situations.”
Many of the cats at the sanctuary were given up by owners who could not or would not continue to care for them.
“Our first priority is to get them healthy and provide them with proper food and veterinary care,” Susan says. “No breeding has taken place here in more than 20 years. If a bonded male and female cat share an enclosure, they are spayed and neutered.”
The 70-acre preserve is home to approximately 60 cats, who live in large fenced-in habitats that give them room to roam and access to natural resources similar to their native environments.
Species include lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats, African servals and a jaguar.
Carole continues to lobby for protection of big cats, bringing awareness to the harm of having these animals as pets or using them for entertainment. The most recent federal legislation she is championing, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, would end ownership of big cats as pets and ban cub petting.
To further the mission of Big Cat Rescue, guided tours are offered.
“No one is allowed any physical contact with the animals,” Susan emphasizes. “Our dual purpose is to rescue and care for the cats in our care and to educate the public about the issues facing wild cats kept in captivity.”