How do you know if a menagerie that claims to be a sanctuary is actually a legitimate sanctuary? We won't delve too much into what comprises a true sanctuary as there are many variables to consider. As it turns out, some states have actually created their own definition for what qualifies as a sanctuary. This begs the question, is Big Cat Rescue recognized as a sanctuary by the state of Florida?
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Big Cat Rescue is not a sanctuary. In their own words, "Big Cat Rescue does not currently hold Sanctuary status. Big Cat Rescue is currently authorized to possess certain Class I, II and III wildlife for exhibition or public sale and native wildlife for rehabilitation."
Below is the email we were forwarded by someone who sent in a public records request. I took the liberty of blacking out the individual's name.
One of the other items requested of the FWC was a list of all of the facilities that currently hold sanctuary status in the state of Florida. Surprisingly, there are only 9 facilities that hold sanctuary statues as per Florida's definition.
Big Cat Rescue does not currently hold Sanctuary status. Big Cat Rescue is currently authorized to possess certain Class I, II and III wildlife for exhibition or public sale and native wildlife for rehabilitation
Below are the facilities and individuals that hold sanctuary status in Florida.
Here is the document that was attached with the email that lists the facilities in Florida that hold sanctuary status.
Recently we've been seeing people attacking The Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation (BJWT) after BJWT posted a document on their Instagram page that allegedly proves they aren't considered a sanctuary according to Mexico. The same people attacking BJWT for not being considered a sanctuary are the same people that support Big Cat Rescue even though they aren't considered a sanctuary by the state of Florida. In no way, shape, or form are we defending BJWT. We just find it odd that people aren't applying the same logic and criticism they use against BJWT towards Big Cat Rescue and other facilities.
Does Accreditation Really Prove Anything?
Big Cat Rescue will no doubt claim they're a reputable sanctuary by touting out their Global Federation of Animals Sanctuaries (GFAS) accreditation. The thing is, how does accreditation by GFAS determine whether or not a facility is reputable? Do they investigate the finances of facilities they accredit? Do they inspect facilities regularly to make sure they're abiding by their standards and are following the law?
In 2014 a fatal cougar mauling took place at a GFAS accredited facility called Wildcat Haven. Wildcat Haven faced a $6-million dollar lawsuit after the tragic incident and was fined by OSHA for multiple safety violations. The keeper that was killed allegedly begged to not be left alone to care for the cats prior to the fatal cougar mauling. Unsurprisingly, Wildcat Haven appears to have relocated, undergone a name change, and is still accredited by GFAS.
The same year a very popular GFAS accredited facility called The Wildcat Sanctuary was caught misappropriating funds. The scandal involved the director and founder of Wildcat Sanctuary spending thousands of dollars on personal items using donated money. The items purchased ranged from underwear to $4,900 for four years worth of cell phone service. Wildcat Sanctuary allegedly started firing employees that reported illegal activities.
Big Cat Rescue is a perfect example of why GFAS accreditation shouldn't be taken too seriously. Below are pictures we took on our visit to Big Cat Rescue. Apparently these cages meet the standards set up by GFAS.
Do we even need to bring out Big Cat Rescue's 2014 inspection report which listed numerous discrepancies regarding their enclosures?
Another thing we should point out is the fact that GFAS says they typically visit facilities they accredit every three years. Three year intervals is not a very reliable way of inspecting a facility. A lot can happen during that lengthy span of time and will most certainly go unnoticed by the inspector. We should also mention that the site visitors are said to almost always be conducted by a volunteer.
Another accrediting body is the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Accreditation by the AZA is considered the "gold standard" by many yet a large majority of deaths by captive big cats have occurred at zoological facilities accredited by them. The most recent tragedy having taken place this year at the Palm Beach Zoo located in Florida.
A little digging into the history of GFAS gives us further reason for why we believe they are not reliable when it comes to Big Cat Rescue. On the GFAS’ timeline page on their website, they say they were helped formed by The Association Of Sanctuaries (TAOS). Looking into the history of TAOS we can see that Carole Baskin (Lewis) was the former Vice President of the organization.
We should point out that The Association of Sanctuaries didn't even accredit Big Cat Rescue as a sanctuary due to them exhibiting animals to the public. See an email confirming this from TAOS below.
Below are TAOS' requirements for a facility to be recognized as a sanctuary.
"Accredited Wildlife Sanctuary - A facility that provides permanent care for displaced wildlife and that is either not open to the public or open only in very limited and carefully controlled ways intended to preserve the animals' privacy. Because they have been previously held in inappropriate or exploitive settings and have lost the abilities needed to survive on their own, the animals cannot be returned to a natural habitat. Animals will be transferred to another reputable facility only when dictated by their own best interests."
Big Cat Rescue didn't meet the requirements to be considered a sanctuary so they were accredited as a animal rescue facility. Here are TAOS' requirements for a "Animal Rescue Facility."
"Accredited Animal Rescue Facility - A facility similar to a wildlife sanctuary except that it is open to the public. It adheres to the following guidelines:
We can't help but to wonder why the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries accredits facilities that exhibit their animals as sanctuaries when The Association of Sanctuaries didn't.
So the question remains. Is Big Cat Rescue a sanctuary? According to TAOS and the FWC, they definitely do not meet the qualifications to be called a sanctuary. Sanctuaries are a place of peace and tranquility. Sanctuary animals are not exploited by charging the public for day tours, night tours, feeding tours, keeper tours, group tours, private tours, photo tours, children's tours, weddings, and parties. Do you think the word sanctuary is just thrown around for the sole purpose of donations?