This is the story of a Florida woman who started out breeding wild cats, and ended up being their voice, speaking out against the cruelty of the exotic pet trade and starting Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.
While looking for llamas at an exotic animal auction in 1992, Carole Baskin and her husband bought a six month old bobcat, from a man whose wife no longer wanted her. After discovering that exotic cats bond to one person, and become aggressive or jealous of others, her husband decided to buy a bobcat kitten of his own.
In 1993 they ended up at, what turned out to be, a fur farm in Minnesota, where most of the animals were killed to make fur coats. They saw animals in horrendous conditions and suffering terribly.
After seeing a pile of partially skinned bobcats and lynx on the floor, they bought the 56 kittens there, in exchange for a promise from the owner to stop killing cats for fur.
They brought the cats back to their home in Florida, and started building cages on their 40 acre property (now 45 acres).
They sought care advice from breeders and exotic cat owners. Not surprisingly, they were told they made good pets, and private ownership preserved the species. With that “expert” advice, they started selling and giving away many of the fur farm kittens.
When they attended animal auctions, they noticed many bidders were taxidermists. They would buy the lowest priced, sickest animals, beat them to death in the parking lot, then take them home and stuff them. Carole and her husband started outbidding them in order to save them.
Not only did they buy cats at auction, they started breeding them as well. She did not realize at the time, how cruel it was to breed a wild animal, for life in a cage. Over time, Carole started learning about “breeders”, as well as the trade in exotic cats.
Cats she thought had been placed in good homes, were not. Once the cub phase was over, calls would come in from people wanting to give the cats back, because they could no longer handle them.
Thus began the slow, but steady, evolution in Carole’s thinking, finally leading to her actively discouraging private ownership.
In order to get the message out, she wrote a book in 1994 and made a video in 1995. She talked about the difficulty in caring for wild cats, their needs, amount of work involved, financial burden etc…
In 1997 Carole ended intentional breeding and buying of animals at auctions. Unfixed cats at the sanctuary were separated, spayed and neutered (unfortunately, there were a few “accidents” and 7 cubs were born).
Since that time, they have only taken in cats that have been found, orphaned, confiscated or surrendered.
Today, about 20% of the cats at their sanctuary were born there in the early years. The rest either never left, or have been returned or abandoned.
When asked, Carole will tell you all her cats are victims of the pet trade, and that she was a part of it.
Big Cat Rescue is now pursuing their vision of a time when sanctuaries like these will no longer be needed. They will continue to be an “educational sanctuary” that cares for the cats they have, helps draft legislation, and educates the public about the plight of these animals, their capture from the wild and their hellish existence in zoos, circuses and private homes.
To read more about big cats and why wild animals should not be pets:
To learn more about the illegal wildlife trade: