Getting up close and personal to exotic wildcats is the norm when visiting Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. Opened in 1993 by Carole Baskin and her late husband, Big Cat Rescue is just that: a sanctuary for more than sixteen species, totaling more than 100 wild cats from the largest lions, leopards, and tigers to bobcats, ocelots, fishing cats, and sand cats.
Tampa Big Cat Rescue, formerly Wildlife on Easy Street, is a nonprofit sanctuary that cares for abandoned and injured cats, circus cats, rescued and orphaned cats, and those whose owners are no longer able to keep them. These magnificent cats live a life of luxury at Big Cat Rescue, as everything about the sanctuary is devoted to their care and well-being.
Although Big Cat Rescue opens daily except Sunday for day and night tours, photo opportunities, behind-the-scenes visits and volunteer opportunities, the primary focus is to protect the cats. Their mission at the sanctuary is to ensure the cats are happy in their cat-a-tats, as they're called, and that they are healthy, receive medical treatment, and in some cases are prepared to be returned to the wild, to live out their lives in natural habitats versus enclosed spaces.
The Tampa Big Cat Rescue facility covers 45 acres just down the street from Citrus Park Mall, one of the largest places to go shopping in Tampa. Within the large expanse of the sanctuary, the cats have their own habitat created especially for their specific needs. Tigers have swimming pools, leopards have plenty of trees to lounge in, snow leopards have air-conditioned, man-made cave dwellings, and the fishing cats have their own fishing pond. Areas are landscaped with grass mounds, climbing ramps, and protected sleeping areas, along with water ponds and trees to provide the cats with plenty of exercise.
There are no cages at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. The only partition between you and the great cats is a very tall fence. The sanctuary is for the benefit of the cats' comfort, peace of mind, and well-being, and it allows visitors the opportunity to see the cats interacting in a natural setting. Visiting the sanctuary is possible by guided tour only. These escorted tours not only serve to protect visitors, but they also ensure the cats are safe, not harassed, and protected at all times.
Tampa Big Cat Rescue has day tours available Monday through Saturday at scheduled times in the morning and afternoon. On Saturday, a kids' tour is available, but remember that a parent or guardian must accompany the child. Friday and Saturday evening at dusk, the Feeders Tour allows visitors to accompany the staff while they feed the great cats.
The Friday night tour is a one-of-a-kind experience on a Tampa vacation, as you tour the sanctuary with only a flashlight and a guide to lead the way. Hear the big cats roar into the night or listen for the sound of rustling leaves as they stalk you in the dark. Visitors must be at least 18 years old to attend the night tour.
When visiting Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, it is important to follow sanctuary rules that include no cell phones, umbrellas, smoking, food, or pets. The facility is an accredited sanctuary promoting education through tours, programs, camps, interns in residence, and a volunteer staff and does not breed or sell the cats that call Big Cat Rescue their home.
Two additional animal attractions that provide visitors an opportunity to observe big cats are Busch Gardens Tampa and the Lowry Park Zoo.