Big Cat Rescue, the Hillsborough County sanctuary that became internationally famous as part of Netflix’s “Tiger King” documentary series, will send most of the animals in its care to an Arkansas refuge, its proprietors announced Monday.
A few will live out their days at Big Cat Rescue, which will eventually be sold.
Howard Baskin, who runs Big Cat Rescue with his wife, Carole Baskin, presented the move as a step toward victory in the fight against big-cat abuse.
“We have always said that our goal was to ‘put ourselves out of business,’ meaning that there would be no big cats in need of rescue and no need for the sanctuary to exist,” he wrote in a note posted to the rescue’s website.
He pointed to the passage last year of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a federal law banning the private ownership of big cats and the practice of cub petting, a main driver of captive big-cat breeding and overpopulation in the United States.
“What this means, importantly, is that over the next decade almost all of this privately held population of cats will pass away,” he wrote. “Within a few years after that they will all be gone and there will be no more cats living in miserable conditions in backyards.”
As the Baskins spent most of the past decade focused on getting such a bill passed, he wrote, other sanctuaries have had more space open up, and Big Cat Rescue has put fewer resources into new rescues. Its cat population has decreased from 200 at its peak decades ago to 41 now.
Howard Baskin also cited the inefficiency of running a facility with high overhead cost but fewer animals to care for, as well as age: He is 73, and Carole Baskin is 62.
Most of the animals will go to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge outside Fayetteville, Arkansas. Turpentine Creek sits on 450 rural acres, Howard Baskin wrote, nearly seven times as large as Big Cat Rescue’s land in Citrus Park, an area of Hillsborough that was sparsely developed when the sanctuary was founded but has since been built up.
One tiger and five bobcats will remain at Big Cat Rescue for the rest of their lives, “based on their age, medical condition, and/or personal characteristics,” Baskin wrote, and several other cats with medical conditions will be monitored before a final decision is made. Construction of the new enclosures at Turpentine Creek is expected to take six months, he said, but with the largest enclosures being built first, tigers could be moved as soon as July.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Big Cat Rescue will foot the bill for the new enclosures, Baskin wrote, at an expected cost of $1.8 million. He asked donors to help with the transition.
Tanya Smith, the founder and president of Turpentine Creek, confirmed the news Wednesday. She worked with the Baskins on the Big Cat Public Safety Act, she said. After it passed, she and her husband visited Big Cat Rescue, where the Baskins pitched the idea of moving the animals to Turpentine Creek. The Arkansas refuge was already in the midst of a plan to build out 13 acres of its land into new facilities, including enclosures.
“It was just perfect timing,” she said. “Some things are just meant to be.”
When no cats remain at Big Cat Rescue, the Baskins will sell the land and use the money to fund efforts to save big cats in the wild, Howard Baskin said.
“The threats to many species of big cat in the wild are not off in the distant future,” he wrote. “They are very real right now.”