In Citrus Park, at Big Cat Rescue, Cameron the lion sleeps tonight

Yesterday I went on an adventure to explore Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit educational sanctuary located in Tampa, FL. The 69-acre sanctuary, which houses over 100 exotic big cats, is sandwiched between Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill and a McDonald’s. Across the street is a Westfield mall and Citrus Park Plaza. But as soon as you make the turn onto Easy Street, a narrow, gravel pathway hidden between the trees, it feels like you’re in the middle of the jungle.

Our tour guide, Ciara, is an intern who lives on property. After we watched a short orientation video, she led us outside to meet the cats. It was astonishing to see how many came to BCR as abandoned pets. Ciara introduced us to Doodles, Zimba, Santino and Zouletta – African servals who had lived in their owner’s basement in New York for 12 years.

Serval

One of the most touching stories was that of Cameron, a lion, and Zabu, a white tigress. The two were raised together at a roadside zoo and now live together in a 3-acre “cat-a-tat” that was designed specifically for them. Cameron was slumbering away entirely undisturbed as we walked by.

Cameron

People often attempt to breed lions and tigers to create “ligers,” but hybridization leads to major health problems in offspring, so Cameron was given a vasectomy to prevent him from breeding with Zabu. White tigers are also a result of hybridization – they don’t exist in the wild. BCR encourages people to refuse to visit attractions that place white tigers on display to prevent this abusive inbreeding from continuing.

At the end of the tour, I was given the chance to sign a petition and make a call to my state senators to support The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, which aims to prohibit the private possession of exotic big cats. This bill has been introduced as HR 1998 in the House and S 1308 in the Senate. You can take action, too, by signing the online petition.

If you’re ever in the Tampa area, I definitely recommend taking a trip to Big Cat Rescue. It was fun and informative, and most importantly, by purchasing a tour ticket, you’re directly helping the cats. Sign up for a tour here.

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