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Big Cat Rescue Works To Pass Protection Act

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Big Cat Rescue and its coalition partners are working to end the private possession and breeding of big cats before the year’s end.

The nonprofit, one of the largest accredited wildlife sanctuaries in the world, wants to get the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act bill passed by November. It was originally introduced to Congress in 2011.

Howard Baskin, advisory board chairman for Big Cat Rescue, said the bill is designed to solve the problem of thousands of animals forced being forced to live in miserable conditions, being physically punished and exploited for profit.

“It is not their natural tendency to jump through burning hoops or do any of the other things you see in performances,” he said.

The bill would allow large zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or zoos having high standards of care, to keep big cats. It would exempt sanctuaries that meet a strict criteria of care as well.

People already owning Class I wild animals would be allowed to keep them until they die of natural causes if the bill is passed, but would not be able to buy or breed more, Baskin said.

“Frankly, there wouldn’t be a place to put all of those cats if we weren’t going to grandfather them,” Baskin said.

The bill is going to be introduced in the 2015 legislative session within the next few weeks, according to Baskin.

The Beginning Of The Cycle

Sassyfrass, a male western cougar, yawns as she wakes up from her evening nap. Kept in a tiny backyard cage, his original owner beat him with a shovel, leaving him afraid of humans.
Sassyfrass, a male western cougar, yawns as she wakes up from her evening nap. Kept in a tiny backyard cage, his original owner beat him with a shovel, leaving him afraid of humans.” Komal Junejo/ WUFT News

Traveling zoos, roadside exhibitors and other businesses in the entertainment industry profit from charging the public a fee to pet, play and pose with tiger cubs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture banned contact with cubs under 8-weeks old while their immune systems develop. Cubs older than 12-weeks are off limits because they are dangerous to the public.

The result is a four-week period of the cat’s life during which it is legal for the public to pet them.

Baskin said if you observe domestic kittens, they sleep a lot. When they’re awake, they want to use their claws and teeth. But tiger cubs are physically punished if they give into their natural tendencies.

“They’re punched in the face,” Baskin said.

Big cat cub handling operations have been found violating this policy by exposing cubs to the public outside of the allotted time frame, according to a fact sheet produced by several wildlife organizations.

Activists say intensive breeding operations have emerged. The big cats are bred to exploit the four-week window and are considered disposable after they’ve outgrown their profitable age.

Susan Bass, public relations director for Big Cat Rescue, said people don’t know it is such a lucrative business.

She said some owners of big cats believe the business will suffer if visitors are not allowed to pet the tigers.

Bass said people will still be attracted to big cats even if they can’t touch them. She compared it to children and their interest in dinosaurs, even though no child has ever touched a prehistoric creature.

“Look at Jurassic World,” Bass said. “No little kid has ever touched a dinosaur.”

Life After The Entertainment Industry

Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, located a place in Minnesota that sold bobcat and lynx kittens.

It was a “fur farm,” a place whose business model revolved around raising the cats for a year and then slaughtering them to make coats, Carole said.

Carole said the cats were in cages layered with fur and feces several inches deep. Carcasses from discarded cats were thrown in a corner of the room.

“The pile of dead cats in the corner hit me with the reality of a freight train,” she said. “Their bellies had been cut off as this soft, spotted fur is the only portion used in making fur coats.”

After discovering the cats not sold as pets would be slaughtered the following year for fur, she bought all 56.

Since then, Carole has created a 67-acre property facility that houses abandoned, abused and orphaned exotic cats saved from being turned into fur coats or retired from performing acts.

Big cat sanctuaries can’t take in all the unwanted cubs that intensive breeding creates, according to the fact sheet.

U.S. sanctuaries are nearly full.

Unfortunately, big cats outside of places like the one Carole encountered share a similar fate.

Bass, public relations director, said after cats grow too big, they are sold through wildlife auctions to taxidermists or operations similar to “puppy mills.”

Bass recalled a story about an experience Carole had when she went to an exotic animal auction and ended up with bringing home a bobcat.

“There was a man standing next to Carole who was bidding on it [bobcat],” Bass said. “She was thinking, ‘Why would you bid on a bobcat?’”

Carole found out the man was a taxidermist and had plans to stuff the bobcat, which led to her having the winning bid and bringing the animal home, Bass said.

Big cats that don’t find homes are sold to taxidermists or die from health conditions.

Mickey, a 12-year-old cougar, was rescued by Big Cat Rescue from Animal House, a backyard zoo in Moulton, Ala. The owner had been feeding domestic cats and dogs to her wild animals.

When Mickey was found, his back knees suffered from torn ligaments. He was underweight and had almost no muscle mass.

Bass said big cats can live in neighborhoods without any registration. This creates a scenario where unqualified individuals are keeping large, dangerous animals in residential areas.

“If a storm comes and they get out, what then?” she said.

Neighbors, visitors and emergency first responders could be put in danger, according to Bass.

Currently, the USDA only tracks animals that are licensed as exhibitors. It doesn’t track any of the private owners who have cats as pets.

“Right now, we have no idea how many cats there are or where they are,”Baskin said. “So firemen or police have no idea if they might be walking into a house that has a tiger in it.”

The Future Of Cats In Entertainment

“There are an increasing number of circuses that don’t have animals, like Cirque du Soleil, and they are very successful,” Baskin said.

While the bill has a very limited circus exemption, roadside operations, where the animals are poorly treated, will not continue if the bill is passed.

“I feel like a big part of the message is that big cats don’t belong in the entertainment industry,” he said. “It’s a miserable life for these animals.”

About Komal Junejo

Komal is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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15 comments

  1. It’s important to get this law passed. Big cats need to be allowed to live in peace and in the wild. The human is the problem. We need to respect our feline friends and let them be.

    • Do you think the cats at Big Cat Rescue are allowed to live in peace? Day tours, night tours, feeding tours, keeper tours, VIP tours, kid tours, weddings, parties….it’s all about making money, and they make lots of it, but only spend a small percentage caring for their cats. bigcatrescuewatch.com

      • If I were you, I’d go home and unplug the computer and lay off of the kool-aid and join a gym. You need to get some fresh blood to your brain.

        • “After discovering the cats not sold as pets would be slaughtered the following year for fur, she bought all 56.”
          Yes she did…and sold most of the 56 as pets herself, along with her book, “Exotic Cats as Housepets”. She made pets of the few she kept and later bred them, selling their cubs through The Animal Finder’s Guide.

          Then she went back to the fur farm a couple more times and bought more bobcat and lynx cubs to breed or sell.

          Did it ever occur to you that if she wanted to rescue cats about to be killed for their fur she would have bought the adults? When that was pointed out to her she then invented a story about going back and buying all the adults and closing them down. That too is a lie.

          Its all here. bigcatrescuewatch.com but my guess is you’d rather drink the koolade.

      • that is an out right lie, which makes you a lier, my bet is that you either work for some kind of ‘cat show, or as a breeder’ that ore you are just plane stupid, either way you should stop posting lies

        • If I may ask, what did she lie about? Does BCR not offer those many tours she listed? Also if you take a peak at BCR’s 2014 IRS Forms you’ll see how they made close to $3.5-million while only about 18% of all that money went to animal care. http://www.bigcatrescuewatch.com/uploads/2/6/8/1/26816874/2014-990-big-cat-rescue.pdf

          • They are Carole Baskin puppets Juan. They don’t research or take a peek at anything resembling the truth, they just do…. and know…. what they’re told. Very sad that they support and promote the lies, deceit, and fraud.

          • and don’t forget for every positive remark they make, they copy the page and their remark, and she pays them for it! Talk about dishonesty! now watch, he will say – he does not get paid – yeah right – don’t believe anyone who posts positive stuff about her!

        • You must have me confused with Carole Baskin. I don’t lie, but she has lied to her donors for 22 years…oh, and I don’t own a cat or any other exotic animal. Carole, her husband, her daughter, her mother, her father…..the family each gets about $50,000 a year from BCR….while volunteers do all the work and donors are told all their money goes to support the cats. It’s all here bigcatrescuewatch.com. Click on finances. A plane is something you fly in. The word you wanted is plain. Now who looks stupid?

        • Jay, you need to get your head out of the clouds, and come back down to earth to reality. She is nothing more than a roadside zoo, her caging is put together with hog rings, amongst other violations that are deliberately overlooked by the inspectors. She was a hooker on the streets, her credibility is null and void. She tries to outrun her past, but it will always haunt her – she is what she is – and she gets away with murder.

    • Do you think the cats at Big Cat Rescue are allowed to live in peace? Day tours, night tours, feeding tours, keeper tours, VIP tours, kid tours, weddings, parties….it’s all about making money, and they make lots of it, but only spend a small percentage caring for their cats. bigcatrescuewatch.com

  2. Cynthia Stimpson

    This Law is ridiculous AZA is a private club. Anyone who passes USDA inspection should be allowed to have these cats Anyone can gain the proper knowledge when given the chance. Anyone can acquire the same textbooks that zoo keepers read in pursuit of their degrees online. What makes them more qualified then the rest of us? BCRS Carole Baskin had no knowledge of cat husbandry until she bought her first cat as a pet. And now she’s promoting legislation to ban people from getting the same start she did. A lot of well established zoos started out as private owners. Maybe the problem is organizations this and other zoological facilities telling people they are too incompetent to care for these animals instead of sharing husbandry knowledge and treating them as peers in the common goal of conservation while sancturaries contribute nothing instead you steal cats from there owners and remove tigers from the gene pool when in this day in age every cat counts.

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  3. Only one side of this does evil to the other side. Carole Baskin is on that side. There are no benefits to be had. Carole Baskin’s people want to steal life from the rest of us, hold it hostage, and murder it. Stop them. Private ownership is the best way to go.

  4. When is any of the media going to get it straight. BCR is not a Sanctuary. You only need to ask FWC. The closest descriptive term for BCR is Road Side Zoo. Sanctuaries do not charge admission, conduct tours day in and day out and usually are not founded on a dump site. This is just a slick marketing campaign to help and already wealthy person finance her pets.

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