The Big Cat Rescue center run by Carole Baskin of Netflix fame is planning to close down and for most of its wildlife to be transported from Florida to a sanctuary in Arkansas.
In a statement, Howard Baskin, the husband of the co-star of Netflix’s smash hit series Tiger King, announced that the 30-year-old center in Tampa had agreed to move most of its cats to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.
“We will continue to fund their care for the rest of their lives,” Baskin’s statement added.
Baskin explained the closure by citing the Big Cat Public Safety Act, or BCPSA, a federal law signed last year that prohibits cub petting and the private ownership of big cats including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars or any hybrid of these species.
Baskin explained that as capacity at other sanctuaries increased in recent years, Big Cat Rescue has “gone ‘all in’ on getting the BCPSA passed”, during which the center invested the majority of its resources into the bill rather than rescues.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Big Cat Rescue had to deal with a “significant fixed overhead expense” of more than $1.5m annually.
“When we had 100 cats, that $1.5m in overhead was $15,000 per cat,” he explained. “At 41 cats, it is over $36,000 per cat. As the population declines, it becomes an increasingly inefficient use of donor funds per cat to operate a facility like ours.”
Even if funding levels were sufficient, Baskin explained that it would be “difficult in good conscience” to spend copious amounts per captive cat when the funds could be reallocated instead to projects that prevent the animals from going extinct in the wild.
Therefore, Baskin and his wife decided on a separate “win-win solution” for both the sanctuary’s captive cats and the cats in the wild: merge Big Cat Rescue’s population with the population of another existing accredited sanctuary and devote the center’s remaining resources to various global “in situ” projects that seek to prevent big cat extinction.
The chosen sanctuary is Arkansas’s Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, which Baskin described as “sitting on 450 acres in an area where expansion even beyond that is possible”.
Turpentine’s founder and president, Tanya Smith, said that her organization and Big Cat Rescue “share similar ideologies and core values, so it seemed quite logical that Carole and Howard would approach us”.
Smith went on to explain the measures that the sanctuary is taking to accommodate the incoming cats from Big Cat Rescue.
“In 2021, [Turpentine] launched a capital campaign initiative to build a visitor education center and museum,” Smith said. “Part of that project includes a five-year plan to develop another 13 acres on our 459-acre property to provide additional habitats.
“We anticipate the construction will be completed within the next six months. This increased space will not only accommodate the remaining cats at Big Cat Rescue but some additional space for other rescue needs.”
Big Cat Rescue and Carole Baskin caught global attention three years ago when Netflix released its popular Tiger King docuseries.
In addition to covering the world of illegal wildlife traders, the documentary covered the feud between Carole Baskin – who many believe might have fed an ex-husband to tigers – and her nemesis Joe Exotic, a former zookeeper who is serving time in prison for trying to hire someone to murder Carole Baskin.
Since the show’s release, authorities reopened their investigation into the disappearance of Carole Baskin’s former millionaire husband, Don Lewis, who vanished in 1997. Despite rumours spurred by the show, including one that maintains Lewis was buried in a septic tank at Big Cat Rescue and was minced into tiger feed, Carole Baskin has remained tight-lipped about the renewed investigation and has refused to speak to authorities.
Meanwhile, last January, Joe Exotic – whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage – was re-sentenced to 21 years in prison by a federal judge who reduced his punishment by a year after Exotic revealed he had prostate cancer and asked for leniency.
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