Tigers-Lions-Panthers – Big Cat Sanctuary in Florida – Photo Tour

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on January 6, 2011 0 Comments

We really enjoyed our visit to this beautiful sanctuary, the guided tour turned out to be a truly unique experience.

Short of going on a safari in Africa this is the best place to see lions, tigers, ozelots, panthers, leopards, servals, fishing cats …. We took the regular guided tour, but I am hoping to go back for a photo safari next time.  

This is the largest, internationally acclaimed wildlife rescue and sanctuary for big cats in the world. It is not a zoo and the emphasis is on the animals and their welfare, not entertainment for the humans, kids must be at least 10 or 12 years old.

The Big Cat Sanctuary in Tampa, Florida is definitely one of

Tampa Bay’s best kept secrets.


So come along on our 


After we signed a release of liability form and put on our wristbands,

 our tour guide asked us to turn off our cell phones, visit the loo,

liberally apply the complimentary mosquito spray and bring along some water

 for the hour and a half tour ahead.

One of the tour guides in front of the entrance sign.

Everyone who was not too good on foot had the option of riding in a golf cart. We were in a group of about 10-15 people.

It was clear that our tour guide, an intern from New York, was in love with all the cats she took care of, including the ones who try to pee on her. She and us learned quickly that you move away when a big cat shows you it’s backside and lifts it’s tail to spray.

All in all a delightful and very informative tour, I wanted to stay longer and wander about longer.  

Isn’t he a gorgeous tiger?

Remember this is a sanctuary,

so his sad story is that he was bred to be a white tiger baby for sale in the black market,

but when he was not white and blue-eyed, they tossed him aside. He was in sad shape, starving and barely alive when the sanctuary took him in.  

(Momma tiger would most likely kill a white tiger baby in the wild, since his white coat would make him an instant target – it’s only us humans or in-humans who want to perpetuate white tigers). 

His story has two happy endings,

one because he was rescued and two because when it became clear that he was still a very sad and depressed tiger with little will to live, another Bengal Tiger named China Doll came into his life and literally nudged him back into life and happiness.

I forgot to upload a photo of the two of them playing, but I’ll add it to my gather photo gallery when I get a chance.


 See his short legs?

That is from stunted growth, because he was almost starved to death. A throw away tiger, because he was not born white!

The belly flap is normal, something about tigers in the wild don’t eat regularly and need a way to store food, if they eat a sudden huge meal.


Here is Zuba ..

a girl tiger who is living with a real big bad lion

 something not normally seen in the wild, since they are two different breeds.

Zuba is the poster child of what happens when those white tiger breeders keep on inbreeding. She has a cleft and her stripes are brown and not black and ….


She was a happy girl, greeting us and talking with us.

The big bad lion – not so much, he just kept an eye on us from afar. We heard that he roars every morning to let everyone know who is king, but as a true tiger diva - Zuba remains unimpressed by the roarings of the male of the species:)

Many of the big cats like Zuba as well as the small cats came up to the front of the enclosure to interact with us, many were pets at one time and are used to humans, none could survive in the wild. 

The sanctuary provides a home for over a hundred different cats including the only known white serval in the world. It so happened the sanctuary took in a pair of old servals who had never reproduced, but surprise, soon after they moved into their new home, a Serval baby arrived and by a quirk of nature it was born white. The only one of it’s kind known to exist. 

The sanctuary is also actively involved in changing laws and awareness about the plight and needs of tigers and exotic cats. Every state has different laws and it surprised me to learn that you are allowed to keep such a large animal permanently confined in a small cage and even on concrete floors.

Did you know that the illegal trade in exotic wildlife is the second most lucrative illegal trade on the black markets around the world? Right up there with drugs and human trafficking in profit and bestiality, I was truly surprised at that.

Then there were three mountain lions, cougars

 siblings – all living together,

who came to the sanctuary as babies.

A hunter shot their mother (which is legal) and brought the babies to a vet in Miami,

shotgun in one hand, cougar babies in a box in the other,

because he wanted to raise them as pets for his kids. Long story short, the babies travelled from Miami to Tampa and get this, they found a house cat at a local shelter to nurse them:). 

An endangered species still trying to make a home in Texas and Florida ….


There was one leopard who called after us

 when we didn’t stop by to visit him …:)

So we turned around to come see him. One of the prettiest leopards living at the big cat rescue, a perfect specimen, he was kept up north in a concrete silo for many years and used for breeding purposes.

I think this one looks smart and happy to be there – a beauty.


This old fellow is not a black panther,

 but as you can see, because of the sun reflection, he is a leopard too.

Quite old, in his 90’s in human years, satisfied to just lay in the sun:)

My favorite, this one tugged at my heart strings – see videos and read the stories of all the big cats at www.bigcatrescue.org


One of several leopards or ozelot? – he came out to hang out with us – even stretching his paw outside the enclosure.

Don’t worry, they wouldn’t let us near and the rebar is set into concrete. There was another lower fence in front, just to keep us humans away.


From the Big Cat Sanctuary website:

This 45 acre, wildlife sanctuary is home to 140 cats representing 16 species of wild cat.  All in one place you can see Lions, Tigers, Geoffroy Cats, Jungle Cats, Servals, Caracals, Snow Leopards, Bobcats, Lynx and more.  Watch Tigers swimming in the lake or see them run full speed through their 3 acre cat-a-tat.  Get so close to them that you can almost feel their hot breath on your skin.  Take photos that everyone will think you took in the wild.  Spend the afternoon with our Keepers walking the park to watch them hand out treats to Bearcats, Ocelots  and Bobcats draped through the trees overhead.  Trudge through the bush and spot Caracals, Servals and Jungle Cats in hot pursuit of lizards and birds.   

Take a walk out into the plains and see Lions or the Fishing Cat in waterfall enclosures.  See with your own eyes, the only White Servals in the world. 



The tigers were waiting for dinner to arrive.

Our guide told us one unfortunate wild squirrel entered their enclosure

and ended up as breakfast earlier that same day:)….

 The sanctuary also offer tours to see the feedings and even night tours, as well as tours geared toward kids.


They are all such beautiful creatures,

every one of them with a story to tell from not knowing what real earth feels like, one tiger jumped up in the air after his paw touched real earth for the first time – all he ever knew were cold concrete floors,

to the panther who had to be taught how to climb a tree. Now he lounges up and practically lives up there like he was meant to do:)

I was most impressed with the huge enclosures, they all had green grass floors and trees and pools to swim in for the fishing cats and access to a lake enclosure for the bengal tigers, to brush and bushes and great places to hide or enjoy the sun, it was indeed the next best thing to living free.

My heart went out to all of them

I hope you enjoyed the tour of the

Big Cat Sanctuary in Tampa, Florida.

Thanks for tagging along!


More information, travel tips and links:

The sanctuary is right off the freeway, next to the Citrus Park Shopping Center in Tampa.

If you are planning to make a day of it, I can recommend the Longhorn Steakhouse and the Smokey Bones BBQ both in the adjacent shopping center, both are fingerlicking good:).

The big cat sanctuary has a nice gift shop and all our friends received cat related gear for Christmas:)

Here is the link to their website:


If you are ever traveling in the Tampa Bay Area stop in to see the Big Cat Sanctuary, it’s a sight worth seeing and a cause worthy of your support.

Written by © Rose Hill on Oct 22, 2010 and posted on Jan 6, 2011.

All images copyright 2010 © Rose Hill – All Rights Reserved 



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My interests keep changing. I love to garden and I enjoy photography. I have an opinion about everything and like to exchange with others. It's what makes me happy.

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