Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
The Trouble With Big Cat Rescue
Big Cat Rescue is a large "non-profit" animal sanctuary in Tampa, Florida, renowned and acclaimed around the world for their work "rescuing" exotic cats from the pet trade, circuses, roadside zoos, and fur farms. They are also known for rehabilitating wild bobcats.
The Florida-based facility frequently receives large donations and has ample public support, and for many, it is one of the leading voices on the plight of exotic cats in captivity. The organization's successful Youtube channel has over a million followers and routinely releases videos of their resident cats' cutesy antics that also highlight how the rescue provides enrichment for the cats.
This is how Carole Baskin, Big Cat Rescue's founder, presents her facility.
The Truth About Big Cat Rescue
- Big Cat Rescue is against zoos, including those that are members of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (to BCR was denied accreditation from in the past).
- Big Cat Rescue's founder purchased many of her current feline residents as private pets.
- Big Cat Rescue does not support breeding for conversation efforts.
- Big Cat Rescue has supported federal bans on the private possession of most pets other than dogs and cats.
- Big Cat Rescue rakes in donations and doesn't pay its staff, who often aspire to work in zoos, despite the organization's stance.
Nothing speaks tranquility like a leopard hanging in the branches or a tiger wading in the water. Nothing can quiet your soul like the purr of a mountain lion. We invite you to pull up a chair and have a lynx or a bobcat come sit in your lap while you stroke its luxurious fur . . .
— Carole Baskin
The Truth Behind Big Cat Rescue
Big Cat Rescue is manipulative and has underlying ambitions that are not made clear to the majority their supporters. The way that their philosophy came to be may be surprising. "Why do people want to own exotic cats?" many ask. Well, you can ask Big Cat Rescue's founder, Carole Baskin, this question.
Those who only recognize Big Cat Rescue’s surface appeal often do not know that the organization's founder started out as a prominent exotic pet owner. Not only did Baskin collect and broker big cats, and not only did she seek to "one day have the largest private collection of exotic cats in the world," as one former acquaintance of hers puts it, but she also published articles in exotic animal newsletters guiding and informing potential exotic cat owners.
At her facility, Baskin also rented cabins to people so they could spend the night with sub-adult bobcats and cougars. See the video below for more information.
Baskin doesn’t necessarily hide this fact (doing so would be an impossibility), but that information is reserved for people who care enough to do a little background research.
However, she came under fire for apparently lying about one resident tiger, "Shere Khan," who she claimed was abused by his original owner and could not walk when she obtained him. A video later surfaced of her playing with Shere Khan as a cub, in which he appeared active, healthy, and alert, exposing her statement as erroneous.
On Big Cat Rescue’s main website, other animals were stated to have been rescued from abusive situations, yet some of the irate original owners have come forward to claim that their animals were sold to Baskin. One news station picked up the story (see video below).
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Big Cat Rescue's Zoo Opposition
This page describes Baskin's position against zoos. While the page may seem to elevate AZA-accredited zoological facilities out of necessity, they are also frequently criticized, and Big Cat Rescue's overall mission is to stop all zoos from displaying exotic cats entirely. Baskin believes that any exotic cat in a cage is inherently cruel, despite her continuing to carry out the practice at her own facility.
Carole's "Pet" Cats
Aside from the lack of integrity in Baskin's claims, the biggest issue about Carole’s so-called former-pet-owner status and her original interest in achieving a massive collection of cats is that she is still achieving that goal.
Times have changed, and animal activism is what's en vogue. Circuses (outside of Cirque de Soleil) have seen diminishing attendance, and now even top zoos with lush vegetation and healthy animal populations are coming under scrutiny by rabid and misguided activism.
Baskin has intelligently elevated her status from top animal owner to top animal rescuer, achieving respect and donations from organizations all over the world as well as the general public.
Her "sanctuary," which is still by definition a zoo, is the largest accredited big cat facility around. The facility possesses an incredibly rare white serval whose origins are also being questioned as well as sand cats that were "surplus from a breeding program."
While she no longer breeds, buys, or sells animals, her original plans seem to be moving along as strongly as ever but under a new guise.
Caracal at Big Cat Rescue
The End of Big Cats in Captivity?
Baskin now states that her ultimate goal is to close down her rescue and completely phase out big cats (and most likely other exotics that will be up to her determination) in captivity because these animals cannot live a respectful existence in such a setting, but simultaneously, she brags about her enclosures, care standards, and how happy the cats are.
It may not match the idealized view that Disney movies and films like Born Free create, but behind the "jail bars," a big cat can be perfectly happy if provided enough space, a proper diet, mentally stimulating activities, and veterinary care.
Why would BCR continue to house these animals in such "unfortunate captive conditions" if they truly didn’t believe in it?
Big Cat Rescue uploaded a video (now removed) that supported the bill discussed in the video above.
Ego, arrogance, and a superiority complex—these three aspects of the human condition have likely contributed to Baskin's motives, and they are also traits she lambasts and accuses private exotic animal owners of having while she praises herself.
One great example exists in an article she wrote entitled “Who are Exotic Pet Owners?”
"What is almost universally shared by those who keep wild animals as pets, or props and even most of those who operate private zoos and sanctuaries is that they are uneducated, poor, unattractive, hot tempered, attention seekers."
This is most likely the reason Baskin has deluded herself into believing that some of her animals, originally purchased as breeders, were gallantly rescued from scumbag owners. In addition, Carole’s ultimate goal will remove animals from these perceived underlings and put her in control of all of them.
Carole has indeed touched upon an obvious truth that she does not inform the public about when she condemns animal captivity: Most of the cruelty cases involving exotic animals occur with low-income or uneducated people. Big cat care is an inherently expensive venture, and not being able to measure up financially is a recipe for disaster.
This is not an issue with animal captivity but an issue with how animals are distributed. Animals like dogs and cats (pit bulls are famously neglected in some neighborhoods at a higher rate) are prone to the same exact conflict.
Public Safety Claims
Interestingly enough, while Baskin cites public safety as a reason to remove big cats from captivity, she ignores that even domesticated dogs attack and kill humans. Even Carole Baskin herself was attacked by a dog as a child and "never got over it."
It is hard to buy Baskin's claim that she would shut down her facility and be cat-less for the rest of her life (nor does it sound believable that the current volunteers would be pleased going back to working at animal shelters with domesticated cats and dogs). Baskin likely knows that the flow of animals will never truly disappear in her lifetime.
When the rights of everyone but her and a few other privileged people have disappeared, she’ll probably convert BCR into a "conservation center" or something to that effect, joining the ranks of respectful zoos that are allowed to acquire and possess the rarest species, which was her original goal. You can accomplish things like this if you have all the money, respect, and adoration in society.
Big Cat Rescue vs. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums
To add to suspicions of the true intentions of her mindset, Baskin’s "rent a cabin with big cats" business was frowned upon by the renowned Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and her request for accreditation from them for her ocelot breeding program was denied. Given her ambitious goals, this likely lead to her disdain for all zoos and her plan to close down even AZA-accredited facilities.
Pet Owners and Zoo workers
Carole has had fear-stirring letters sent to the neighbors of exotic animal owners (Class II in Florida). It is well-known that owners of larger exotic pets are not commonplace in the slightest. Unfortunately, small groups mean small support. What chances do exotic pet owners have against Big Cat Rescue and the many other organizations conglomerating to phase them out?
This is happy news for Baskin and Big Cat Rescue associates, however, as they continue to upload videos with their interns’ condescending remarks about the people they’ve obtained some of their cats from.
Despite all this, I used to be subscribed to BCR on Youtube, as I enjoyed the enrichment and care videos. I was forcibly unsubscribed from them when I was blocked for (politely) speaking my mind in the comment section. Yet, unsurprisingly, condescending and hateful comments directed toward pet owners remain on the videos.
An Unintentionally Funny Big Cat Rescue Video
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2012 Melissa A Smith