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Why Some Florida Big Cat Owners Disagree About Breeding, Public Contact With Cubs

By and

A Melrose man blind in one eye enters a cage with two full-grown Bengal tigers.

He locks the door behind him and approaches the 8-year-old sisters unarmed and unafraid.

It’s not a suicide attempt.

Carl Bovard does this on a daily basis.

“These two are the reason I started this place,” said Bovard, 42. “I’m probably most bonded to them.”

Amira and Bali are two of 14 big cats Bovard cares for at Single Vision, Inc., a non-profit endangered species educational wildlife facility at 8185 Forest Hills Road in Melrose.

Bovard conducts weekly tours for the public to view his six tigers, two lions and other exotic animals up close.

The future of his facility and others like it across the country is being challenged. A petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture from several animal welfare groups is seeking a federal ban on licensees who allow the public to have direct or physical contact with big cats, bears, or nonhuman primates of any age, as well as breed them.

Amira gave birth Feb. 22 to Bhutan, the first cub born at Bovard’s facility. He took in two more cubs shortly after — another tiger, Summer, and Leo, a male lion. For the past six months, Bovard offered interactions with the cubs before they weighed 40 pounds. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission prohibits contact with the public once that weight is reached.

“Almost every guest that comes out here says this is the closest they’ve been to a tiger,” Bovard said. “When you go to a zoo, they’re sleeping or they’re 100 yards away from you. Here, they’re in your face.

“And when we have a cub, we will give people the opportunity to touch them and play with them, and people get a passion from that. You’re not going to protect anything you don’t have a passion for and a love for. So that’s what we try to spark in people.”

A motorcycle accident two decades ago left Bovard blind. During that time, he thought about what he missed seeing the most. He decided on animals. Months later, sight returned in his right eye.
A motorcycle accident two decades ago left Bovard blind. During that time, he thought about what he missed seeing the most. He decided on animals. Months later, sight returned in his right eye.

Bovard graduated from Indiana University with a degree in biology and started his career at SeaWorld. Years later, he developed an affinity for tigers while working as a zookeeper.

He adopted Amira and Bali in 2005 and founded Single Vision, Inc.

“A big reason why I started this,” he said, “is I had worked at a sanctuary, and one of my biggest arguments with the owner was about expanding their enclosures. I wanted to be able to give tigers a better life. Since I couldn’t afford to fence in my whole property, I built a great big play area, and I initiate play.

“If my cats were just stuck in a cage all day every day like most big cats in this country, I wouldn’t be going in with them. That’s just too much pent-up aggression. Here, I give them a chance to expend that energy every day.”

The FWC’s requirement for two tigers is a 10 x 24-foot cage, constructed of 9-gauge wire and a safety entrance. Bovard’s cages are more than twice that size.

The enclosures at Carson Springs Wildlife Foundation and Sanctuary, 8528 E. County Road 225 in Gainesville, go well beyond the state requirements.

“It’s one of the best facilities in the country,” Bovard said of Carson Springs. “If I die or anything happens to me, that’s where I want my cats to go. They won’t be worked with there, but they would have an awesome home.”

One of the Janks' animals at Carson Springs is a rare endangered species of cheetah. Only 200 are left in the world.
One of the Janks' animals at Carson Springs is a rare endangered species of cheetah. Only 200 are left in the world.

Christine Janks and her husband, Barry, opened Carson Springs in 2007 after living in South Africa for five years and working to protect cheetahs.

They started with a serval named Tocatta and now provide a home to more than a dozen rescued cats, including lions and tigers, on their 274-acre farm.

“Our animals are kept in more of a park-like environment,” Janks said. “I don’t feel the minimum standard for caging is adequate. Our cages are as much as 10 times more than what’s required.”

Although Janks is in favor of stricter rules and regulations for obtaining a license, she doesn’t want the USDA to become overbearing on those who meet the qualifications.

“We’re the professionals,” she said, “and if you think enough of us to give us a license, then you ought to let us handle them the way we think is best. Someone in a state agency somewhere shouldn’t be deciding the protocols.”

Janks does support trying to stop breeding with the USDA petition. Most tigers, she said, are bred for photo purposes and then go to hunting farms, sanctuaries or get euthanized once they weigh too much.

“Carl does some things I’m not too crazy about, but he does a really good job. Carl has some babies, but I feel, because I know Carl, that he’s not going to abandon those or mistreat them. But Carl is a particular individual, and in a lot of cases that doesn’t happen,” said Janks, who would also like current animals in captivity to get genetically tested and designated as purebred or not.

Bovard and Janks are against the part of the petition that aims to prohibit the separation of animals from their mothers before the species-typical age of weaning. Both said the ability to bottle feed cubs during that period makes them much easier to deal with as adults, especially in Bovard’s case.

Big Cat Rescue, Carole Baskin’s non-profit educational sanctuary in Tampa, is one of the petitioners to the USDA. Baskin began rescuing animals in 1993, when she and her late husband visited a fur farm.

“I started crying ,” she said, “and my husband told the guy, ‘How much for every cat here?’ We came home with 56 bobcats and a lynx that day.”

Baskin bred some cats in the early years of her sanctuary. She was told it would help save them for future generations, but her outlook changed after attending some American Zoological Association meetings.

“When we started out, we were stupid and didn’t know the entire scope of what was going on,” she said. “What I discovered is that none of these animals in private hands are serving any kind of conservation value. So we stopped breeding in 1997, and since then I’ve been trying to end private possession.”

While Bovard acknowledges most breeding happens for the wrong reasons, he doesn’t want to be punished as a result. He hopes to move to St. Augustine and build a park for his animals.

Brovard notes there are more tigers in the United States privately (around 4,000) than in the wild worldwide (less than 3,000), and those statistics alarm him. But he said the issues are circuses, zoos and owners who have them in small enclosures and/or in states without regulations.

“I don’t have any problem with exotic ownership as long as it’s done properly,” he said. “To me, we need some tigers in captivity so people can see them and get educated and help conserve them. Other people don’t see it that way.”

Janks feels the USDA needs to identify specific concerns and address them individually rather than pursue a universal change in the system at the federal level. She also questions Baskin’s motives.

“She’s doing the same thing we are,” Janks said. “Her budget is a couple million dollars, which is way above any of us. That’s her livelihood and everything she does, and (her) thought that, ‘I could be out of business next week, and it would make me very happy’ is a little disingenuous.”

Baskin said the petition isn’t designed to take animals away from their current owners, but she believes a ban on the breeding and public exposure of big cats would eventually eliminate the trade and need for sanctuaries.

“I think people like to define themselves as being the rescuers,” Baskin said. “And if there are no more animals out there to rescue, then they don’t have a role in life any longer. It’s all they do, and that’s what they want to do until they die. They’re not looking at the bigger picture.”

The USDA will consider all public comments it receives regarding the petition on or before October 4.

About Zach Abolverdi

Zach is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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  • Nikki Hietala

    Big Cat Rescue – mentioned in the article – does some really amazing things for the cats they rescue. I’m not trying to be rude when I say this, but it really isn’t a great idea to bring people into contact with big cats, and a lot of this can be seen in the work Big Cat Rescue does. It is way less stressing for the cats when exposure is lessened – these are animals that were never meant to be placed in the same scope/space as humans. That’s just my two cents on the matter.

  • Deb C.

    I have experienced supervised cub-interactions twice (at Single Vision in Melrose), and the cubs were not stressed. Quite the contrary: they were playful and affectionate. When they lost interest in me, they were free to wander off–and they did so.

    I’ve also taken the regular tour three times (a guided tour during which I was outside the adult big cats’ enclosures).

    Cub-interaction sessions and regular tours of smaller facilities (such
    as Single Vision), provide a closer-up and more intimate experience with the animals than one usually has at a zoo–and such more-intimate experiences promote people’s appreciation and regard for those animals.

    Promoting appreciation and regard for the animals’ lives is crucial to conservation because lack of appreciation/regard is the root cause of problems such as habitat destruction and poaching–which, in turn, caused many species’ to become endangered.

    Ideally, big cats should live in the wild, but our world is not ideal. TIgers, for example, have lost more than 90% of their habitat over the past century–due largely to habitat destruction and poaching. The lion population in Africa has declined by about 66% over the past 50 years due largely to habitat destruction.

    Smaller endangered-species facilities that are properly run (such as Single Vision) not only promote conservation efforts, but they also provide a good quality of life for the animals.

    Taking a regular tour of Single Vision will provide evidence of how comfortable, well-cared-for, content, and even “happy” those animals are.

    Side point: this article’s title seems negatively slanted against big-cat breeding and interaction with cubs–though the article’s writers don’t seem to take a stance. Maybe a change in title would be appropriate?

    [Note: I have no financial interest in any animal-related facility or business.]

  • Joe Schreibvogel

    The problem is she has made her millions and living high off the hog, now that she has her scam down pat, she wants to make it so no one else can climb that ladder

  • Deborah Milette

    Seems that every article, proposed bill, law, whatever is ALWAYS brought up by Carol Baskins who owns Big Cat Rescue and she and Tippi Hedrin are ALWAYS the exception to the rules, regulations and laws when they are passed. People have to have contact with these animals at a young age because contact is extremely necessary to make sure the animal remains healthy. EVERYONE that deals with cats especially “big” cat and domestic know that feline family hide their illness until it is too late. Just the feel of the nose, feel of the body temperature even the temperament the cat has towards his/her care-giver are signs that you can only get by having hands on care. When you don’t have that one-on-one with any animal and as this proposed bill indicated that care-givers would have to really stress out an animal by un-necessarily being forced to dart an animal just for a health check. That alone puts stress levels sky high for the animal NOT to mention that the feline can have an adverse reaction to the darting drug and die needlessly. ALL good, caring and loving owners that take on the responsibility of caring, rescuing, buying these animals do it because it is their Constitutional right to do so and their choice to do so. Many have said that IF they die at the claws or teeth of these animals it is their choice. I have been to Big Cat Rescue and her place is deplorable and seems that USDA is either paid to look the other way or just duct tape their hands behind their backs. She still allows breeding at her facility and to quickly cover it up she suddenly has a rescue, many of her animals desperately need medical care and I have seen animals not wanting to move because of chronic pain they are in and yes pain in animals can make them grumpy maybe even nasty but that is because of human greed at this facility. Baskins and Hedron seem to be the only “supposedly” perfect people who can care for these animals in their book. I am sorry but I have met many other people that are more than qualified than them and they are. Everything goes to the animals before they even get care for themselves. Until then when they can actually face the world and let people throw stones at their galss home and watch it fall, I really wish they would stay in the closet where they belong. Caring for these animals is not a fantasy world that they live in, it is Harsh Reality 101. Also I really wish Baskins would get my life correct and what I have done because I have NEVER hurt anything including humans and anything that I have done for the sake of an animal, I would do it again to make sure it was safe from harm. But thanks for the free publicity all you have done is make me more famous, if that is what one wants to call it.

    In ending, as usual this is just another me, myself and I law created just for those who think they own everything. Excuse us the ones that sincerely care and do, do it for the animals and not the money like Baskins gets from H$U$ and their protection. Now I can go and puke?

    • E. F. Whitney

      I’ve heard that Big Cat Rescue does good work, but I find it ironic that its owner claims to want to put herself “out of business.” When? After the owner makes another $5 million or $10 million off their 100 cats?

      Big Cat Rescue has a heavy financial interest in shutting down other big-cat sanctuaries (more donation dollars for BCR), so the owner’s anti-cub-petting and anti-breeding stance seems pretty questionable.

  • Big Cat Rescue

    It was at the AZA (American Zoological Association) conferences that I learned the backyard breeders were lying about breeding for conservation. I submitted far more info than was covered here in case people want to know more about the big cat crises. Big Cat Bans


    and turns out I did a summary of the above a couple months ago here:


    Big Cat Attacks

    http://bigcatrescue.org/big-cat-attacks/ is the long list and there is a break down by state on this chart, but I haven’t updated it since 2011:


    Big Cat Advocates

    This fact sheet has the Big Cat Coalition partners listed and the reason we need to ban private possession:


    Why we need a ban instead of more regulation:


    Feel free to use any of our videos from http://www.BigCatTV.com for this article. In Firefox, Downloader Helper will download a YouTube file. A couple that are particularly pertinent are:



    How many big cats in Florida?

    This is the 2012 list of Class I animals in FL, so it includes big cats, bears, chimps, etc. You may need a google account to see this, and if you can’t, I will download it and email to you.


    How many tigers in America?

    This list was created in 2011 but updated at the end of 2012. It is the list of USDA facilities that have tigers. At the time that I created it, USDA did not take a census on any other type of animal. They did a one time census in 2004 on tigers and then it has been on the honor system since then. Note the columns way out to the right 2012 and 2004 to see the change in the number of tigers at each facility.


    Notes based upon USDA’s info from 2004 and 2011

    In 2004 there were 4,845 tigers in 666 USDA facilities

    In 2012 there are 2,121 tigers in 348 USDA facilites (+305 at Tiger Haven not USDA)

    There are 2,724 missing tigers plus any born since 2004

    There are 81 facilities that had no tigers in 2004 but do now

    There are 399 facilities that had tigers in 2004 but do not now

    Where are they now?

    Is this because USDA licensees have dropped their licenses or because the cats have died?

    I queried USDA database for cancelled licenses and revoked licenses and marked sheet accordingly

    No Cats means the query for USDA facilities w/ cats did not list them, but they may still have USDA licenses and just have no cats listed

    Notes section lists some other cats at facilities but I haven’t researched all to find non tigers yet

  • TomKi

    Punishing a group using the actions of a few as an excuse is simply taking advantage of a problem to rob people. Those who take such advantage are lowlife criminals. They are a worse problem than the problems that they pretend to be trying to solve. Wouldn’t you agree, Carole Baskin?

  • Ray

    having been to Single Vision twice, I can say that those visits have made myself my wife and friends more aware and interested in the preservation of these beautiful animals. The dedication, commitment and passion expended by Carl and his team toward the welfare of these animals is amazing. If more people were as passionate in their lifes pursuits this world would be a much better place!!
    These animals need us now more than ever!

  • Deborah Justice Cutrell

    Funny how Big Cat Rescue feels the need to throw the AZA accreditation out there like they are accepted by the AZA. lmao!! The AZA has turned them down time after time as they are just another roadside zoo, making millions from exploiting their animals. Now that that is said, I feel that if a person CHOOSES to have contact with ANY animal they want to, it is THEIR BUSINESS. Big cats kill ONE PERSON every year. There are far more interests, hobbies and jobs that kill THOUSANDS every year and there is no political movement to stop them. Look into how many deaths per year are from: Football, baseball, racecars, motorcycles, horses, cattle, KITE FLYING, bungee jumping, parachuting, sailing, hand gliding, rock climbing, hiking…. almost every sport, hobby or job has more deaths and injuries per year than dealing with exotic animals. Why the hype then? I will tell you why. There is a very sick and psychotic woman that lives in Florida that was alienated from the exotic animal community because of her lies and deaths of the animals she was selling to others. She vowed to “get even” and to be the only one to dictate who can and who can’t have them. She has a very good way of communicating and a great sense of marketing. Sick and evil nonetheless. If her “dream” and “goal” is to put herself “out of business”… then I suggest she get to it and leave the animal care to the professionals.

  • Partner Norton

    IM SORRY but did he say NON Profit ? OMG your joking she gets over a million a yr in Donations people and look at the animals do they really look well cared for ? Not.
    she needs to first educate herself stop harassing her animals as well as her Crew Sticking sticks in to make them look mean and putting meat on the end for a photo shit by some Sucker that actually paid to get in , Really Non Profit ? Carol When was the Last time you redid your cages ? Have you stopped the bad water have you cleaned the animals Habitat if you can call a SMALL cage that

  • Partner Norton
    • Partner Norton

      Nice huh and when did Dear Don come up Missing

  • Deborah Milette

    Look at this site found by a close friend!!!! Six months later her husband, Don Lewis is suddenly missing!


    Don either died from the leopard attack (although the leopard had the biggest smile on it’s face according to Carole. Or Don died from the injuries or the horrible treatment Carole herself gave him! This product was not to be used to treat Don’s injuries like he had. Either way he was tiger food and any remaining bones were the wood chipper machine use.

  • timbalionguy

    There is nothing good whatsoever about the proposed ban on breeding or hand-rearing big cats, that Carole Baskin and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are behind. Their goal is no big cats in captivity, period. If they wipe out the small facilities, they will turn on the big zoos next. The premise is very simple: NO BREEDING = EXTINCTION! It isn’t about protecting the species or the people, or anything else. They just don’t like animals being near people, and they want to force their will on everyone, any way they can.

    The ‘accreditation’ argument is being used to ‘divide and conquer’ big cat facilities. There are non-accredited facilities out there who take far better care of their cats than any accredited zoo. But to Carole, HSUS and the animal rights folks, these keepers ‘know nothing’. You will often see big cats pacing listlessly at big zoos because they have no contact or relationship with the keepers. Such a relationship is ‘not scientific’! (Some big zoos are learning from the small zoos, though and starting to build relationships with their cats.)

    Then, there is the argument about cat cubs being disposed of after they are too big for the public to handle. Carole and the animal rights folks claim they are sent to hunting ranches, or simply killed. Can they offer even one concrete example of this happening? We cat keepers have been asking the animal rights folks for many years to offer proof of this practice. They have never offered any proof.

    And what about circuses? Modern circuses take very good care of their animals. They have to, as unhealthy animals do not attract the public. Properly cared for, big cats can adapt to smaller spaces. Unlike canines, big cats don’t normally run. They run only to catch dinner or to escape danger. They sleep 20 hours a day. And I know of a tiger who turned her nose up at a 100 X 100 foot space in favor of a 20 X 20 foot space, as she knew that is where she would always find her human friends. She lived a full, happy life, and would always get excited when I would visit.

    What about public safety? There really isn’t a public safety problem. Especially these days, most people killed by big cats are zookeepers in big zoos. A combination of overly complex caging systems and no relationship with the cats is just asking for trouble. On the other hand, it is people like Carl Bovard and the so-called ‘pet owners’ who have the best safety record. Why? Because they know, and are bonded to their animals. For accurate, up-to-date statistics, check out REXANO.org They also have a lot of good reading material on responsible exotic animal ownership, from a wide variety of animal keepers.

    Please don’t believe what folks like Carole and the animal rights folks are telling you. Go check out a small zoo, educational center (like SIngle Vision) or circus near you. See for yourself what modern big cat care is like. And prepare to see happy, well-adjusted animals!