Big Cat Rescue, Tampa

Tiger eating his breakfast Big Cat Rescue

Tiger eating his breakfast
Big Cat Rescue

Our recent short vacation to Tampa had been long wished for because of the proximity to a large cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue. For many years we have been watching their funny and sometimes poignant Youtube videos and sponsoring their cats. Basically they rescue large cats such as tigers and lions that have sometimes been abused, are circus cats or kept by inappropriate owners. Many of the US states have introduced new legislation to prevent any Tom, Dick or Harry from buying a tiger cub. Unless current owners are able to provide a safe, specifically fenced, environment then they must give their animal up. There are many sanctuaries all over America but it is very expensive to feed and house these large animals.

“Hurry Up!”

Big Cat Rescue is one of the more successful sanctuaries by taking advantage of social media to promote their sanctuary and reform of the law. Although it wasn’t Nirvana, the animals have reasonably sized habitats with rotation into a larger vacation area with water and trees. The caretakers obviously love the animals and take great care of them, attending to all of their medical and holistic needs. It is situated just north of Tampa on a large tract of land but it is not a zoo. You can pay for a short visit at certain times and they do have educational tours. We decided to pay for a feeding tour where we could get up close and personal with some of the cats.

The ashes of previous residents are buried here

The ashes of previous residents are buried here

When you look at my photographs, you may think that their cage area is very small but this is just the feeding area. This small compartment allows the staff to look closely at the animals, watch their appetite and any problems with chewing. Many of them are very old and get supplements or medication for arthritis and the like. Teddy and I were so excited to see them at last! So many years of laughing at their silly antics, shedding a tear as a favorite old cat dies or cheering as they release a local bobcat into the wild. It was everything we hoped for and a little more. We were alone on the tour because it is low season and got very close the big cats.

"I want some!"

“I want some!”

I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t take notes of who was who and I might not even have the species correct. White or cream tigers are a mutation, bred for their looks. The same thing happens with ‘domestic’ Bengal cats. They are half wild and not appropriate for a regular household. I can’t see any reason why you would have to buy a cat at all – just rescue one, unless you need a specific breed for allergies.

This is not a natural mutation, this tiger is the result of selective breeding

This is not a natural mutation, this tiger is the result of selective breeding

Bobcat with orange ball

Bobcat with orange ball

The old cats who have always lived in captivity, sometimes in very small cages, are now in their forever home but they also have local bobcats brought to them who have been injured or orphaned (usually in a car accident). If it is possible, they are always released back into the wild. They also socialize small domestic kittens in a separate area which then are housed by the local charity. Below is Sabre, an elderly black Asian leopard. Here he is chillin’ in his pad. We watched him eat a large piece of meat quickly because he was so excited to get his breakfast. I think we all knew what was going to happen. Sabre looked as though he had bitten off more than he could chew and retreated back into his enclosure. Then he burped, threw up the meat and then proceeded to eat it again. Hilarious! Just like our little cats.


Sabre, the black leopard, chillin’

You don’t have to go all the way to Tampa to enjoy them – just browse the Youtube videos.

Do Big Cats like Boxes?
Do Big Cats Purr?


Zhenny – the crazy cat


I had such a sad day yesterday. Our beautiful Zhenny’s heart stopped during a routine dental procedure and she is now buried in the garden with Mrs. Stripe who died earlier in the year. She was geriatric and had some cognitive difficulties but it was an unexpected death.  Teddy and I are distraught despite knowing that she didn’t have much longer. She was so funny, loving and crazy, RIP our special girl. This is my original post about her.

I know – she is utterly beautiful. Her eyes are exquisite and she looks like a cat on a pyramid. That’s the problem… I first encountered her at the cat shelter where my husband and I volunteered in Cairo, Egypt. Her owner was moving from an American military base in Cairo to another in Korea and couldn’t take her fur baby. I can only imagine how her owner felt but Zhenny was distraught. She wouldn’t eat anything, despite our endless treats and pleading. The veterinarian put an IV drip in but she thought she was being tortured. We already had Mrs. Stripe and her daughter, Toffee, our garden cats, so we certainly didn’t want another one. We thought that Stripe would attack her anyway as she is so territorial. Then one day it was obvious that Zhenny was dying and I just put her in a crate, took her home so that she could die somewhere nice.

She was so skinny that we bought her a little cat nest with a hood so that she could feel safe and comfortable in her final days. To my surprise, when I introduced Stripe and Toffee to her, I could see them saying, ‘Poor little soul’ and thus she was accepted. The fight for her life went on for about a week with me forcing baby food into her mouth. In desperation I bought some minced beef and cooked it for her. For the first time, she seemed to have an appetite and started eating properly. By that time we were all bonded or used to each other’s scents and it was too late… That was 12 years ago and she was 18 months old. She is still alive but I have saved her life on another occasion when the veterinarian hospital could not look after her. We believe she may have sent someone to ER…

Stripe and Toffee are likely half Mau but completely feral. Zhenny looks like a tabby oriental but may as well be from Planet Zed. Even the vet said that she is just loco. I have looked after many cats but this one is an enigma. Only I can lift her, and only in special circumstances. Her Dad may only kiss her but not stroke her. He is also the only one who is allowed to play with her in a precise OCD way. Mum is just for cuddles and care-giving. The other two cats were utterly silent for years, as feral cats can be, but Zhenny is astonishingly vocal. I will be on the phone with my aunt in Ireland, Zhenny will be three rooms away and she can hear her screaming. After all these years we can tell the difference between her distress and laughter. The vet suggested that we give her Xanax – I looked at him and said, “How precisely should I do that, with a blow-dart, perhaps?”

She can be hysterically funny or drive us to tears. If she is upset she creeps along the floor, sobbing. Have you ever heard a cat sob? All treats have to be thrown like live prey and yet she is not a hunter. We discovered much later that she had kittens before we took her in but still hadn’t been neutered. Shortly after I saved her life in Cairo, she went into heat. Our villa was three houses from the baker’s shop at the end of the street and I could hear her howling inside our house. No wonder our neighbors had some issues with us… One time she was halfway up the stairs, with her head peeping through the balustrade and started ‘in heat howling’. Even she looked astonished at the guttural sound that came out of her mouth and we burst out laughing.

She should not have lived this long but Mummy is just so good at saving her life. Sigh. Our vet looks at me in horror when I say very firmly DO NOT RESUSCITATE! She is so difficult to handle that we know that she would not be able to cope with a chronic illness or disability so it would be a kindness. She has the early stages of kidney dysfunction but I suspect she has at least another year in her. Oh we will miss these beautiful green blue eyes and her funny vocalizations.

Zhenny at 2 years old in Cairo

Zhenny at 2 years old in Cairo

Read more about her in Letters from Cairo by Kerry Duncan