As previously mentioned in part one of this series of blog posts, I toured the wire jungle known as Big Cat Rescue. I also managed to visit a few other facilities that ranged from small scale to large scale operations and have one thing in common, they're constantly attacked by Big Cat Rescue. The facilities I visited were Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary, Dade City’s Wild Things, Forced Exotic Animal Relocation (F.E.A.R.), and The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.). To read about the first facility I visited click HERE.
The second facility I visited on my trip was Dade City’s Wild Things located in Dade City, Florida. Before I begin, I would like to point out that this post won't be as long as the previous. No one knew I was coming and as I was soon to find out, Dade City’s Wild Things is closed to the public on Mondays, which is the day I chose to visit. Luckily, after learning my identity I was generously allowed a quick private tour led by Kathy Stearns and her son Randy.
Dade City’s Wild Things has sparked tons of controversy and is one of the facilities under almost constant scrutiny by Big Cat Rescue. Unsurprisingly, it seems as though Big Cat Rescue has teamed up with People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on their crusade to shut them down.
The drive to Dade City’s Wild Things was long, but it gave me a chance to view some of Florida’s beautiful lush green countryside. Upon arrival at the facility I couldn’t help but notice all the trees and thick vegetation on the property that were flourishing due to the recent downpours.
Pulling up to the narrow driveway located near a small building, I saw a parked trolley that is used to transport visitors from a remote gift shop area to the private zoo. Getting out of the car I was greeted by a friendly dog that displayed a striking resemblance to my dog, albeit more fluffy. I was then kindly welcomed by Kathy and Randy.
Randy Sterns was quite the character with his Tiger Man getup, which I thought was cool and unique. He was also very courteous. Kathy was friendly as well, although very concerned for the health of a baby gibbon ape which had attached itself to her chest. I learned it had recently had a blood transfusion from another gibbon due to health issues.
Scattered around DCWT were rustic remnants of a not-so-distant past such as an old beat up tractor. I thought these old fashioned displays were a neat idea that added to the country feel of the zoo. The trees and thick vegetation kinda clashed with the country theme though.
Due to the facility being closed, my tour was kept short, which meant I was only able to see a few animals all of whom seemed to be in good health. The first animals I was introduced to were two lions, one male and one female. Kathy called over the male lion and he slowly walked right up to the fence curiously staring at us before letting out a unimpressed yawn. In my opinion, the enclosure the lions were housed in was basic.
Continuing down the trail teeming with overgrown vegetation I was told was soon to be cut, I saw an awesome looking jaguar that seemed a bit on the chubby side. The spotted pattern decorating its fur coat was absolutely stunning. It didn’t really seem interested in us so we continued on to the bear exhibit, passing up an enclosure too far away to know what was inside.
The bear was just relaxing on the rocky part of its enclosure not paying much attention to our presence. A little further down the path was a curious tiger. The tiger seemed very interested in us and was rubbing against the fence trying to get our attention. The enclosure housing the tiger was decent, but some things like the chewed up ball should be replaced.
At the end of the path we arrived back at the main trail-head that splits off leading to other animal exhibits. As previously stated, I wasn’t able to see all of the animals due to DCWT being closed and making time for my unexpected visit. I did manage to see their deer, some creepy looking monkeys, and a ring tailed lemur.
One of the main reasons Dade City’s Wild Things is bombarded by animal rights organizations is because they offer visitors an opportunity to swim with a tiger cub. I visited DCWT so I could form my own opinion as to whether or not Big Cat Rescue's attacks are warranted. It was now time for me to see for myself the highly controversial cub swimming.
I was led through the rest area containing picnic tables to a set of bleachers with a large fence separating it from the area where the swimming took place. A large pool was surrounded by manicured green grass. Surrounding the small clearing were enclosures housing both juvenile and adult tigers, some of which were laying down curiously staring at us.
An adorable white tiger cub named Luna was then led out on a leash by a woman named Megan. Luna was so small compared to the other tigers. It’s fascinating how such a tiny creature can grow into such a huge predator.
Megan was bottle feeding Luna, who was hungrily sucking down all the formula in the bottle. After finishing her snack Luna played in the grass with her stuffed animal for a while. She was then led over to the pool where she worked her way up to getting in by first dipping her paws in the water. Eventually she decided to take the plunge.
Megan led her back and forth to both ends of the pool. I could hear Luna 'chuffing' as she was swimming; a sound that I'm unable to replicate. After the short swim Luna was then dried off with a towel and began playing again.
I noticed nothing forced or abusive in my experience, however, my experience isn't representative of all. Since it was a hot and slightly humid day I would assume being in the pool would be refreshing for a tiger cub and Luna really seemed to enjoy it if her chuffing was any indication.
If every tiger cub swim is conducted like the one I witnessed I don’t understand how it can be construed as animal abuse. I'm not an expert, but I would think activities that encourage exercise and fitness and keep the animals from becoming bored would be beneficial for exotic animals in captivity.
Knowing that there is a question as to where the tiger cubs go when they are older I posed this question to Kathy. This was her reply. "They stay with us or go to USDA zoos we have vetted, like Zoo Montana."
I don't know enough about the controversial aspects of public contact with exotic animals to either condone or condemn it. I just report what I have seen or am told first hand. With that being said, there's not much more I can add to my review of Dade City's Wild Things. They were closed, prohibiting me from seeing how they operate when there are many people touring and all the exhibits and amenities are accessible.
In a couple of the enclosures there were small puddles of water caused by heavy showers that constantly took place in my time in Florida. Water mixed with a natural dirt floor creates mud and that was a major issue in at least one of the cages housing a tiger. The enclosure housing the jaguar also felt way too small in my opinion.
I didn’t see any signs of animal abuse at DCWT nor did I see the tiger cub being mishandled. Overall, some of the enclosures should be expanded and renovated and the chewed up toys for the big cats should be immediately replaced. I'm not saying this is the case for DCWT, but people must take into account that animal rights organizations cause small private zoos to lose much needed revenue which impacts the lives of the animals.
6/28/17 - Added in more details, deleted unnecessary sentences, and made sentences more concise