Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Big Cats

view of serval from behind
Caught Napping
copyright 2014, Stephanie Maatta Smith
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to visit Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, FL. Big Cat Rescue is a sanctuary for exploited, abandoned, and abused exotic cats. I hate that they are in enclosures, but the cats are now in a safe, healthy environment where they are cared for and given back their dignity. When the cats are rescued the sanctuary becomes their last home and final resting place. Most of the cats are older and all of the rescues live out the remainder of their days in peace.

Bengal tiger, serval, stone statue of lion, white serval images
Big Cat Collage, copyright 2014, Stephanie Maatta Smith
Photographing the cats posed some challenges. Because they are in enclosures, which are then surrounded by retaining fences, it was near impossible to eliminate the fence in most of the photos. Many of the cats are shy or afraid of people and tended to stay further back in their enclosures. And, of course, everyone wants to get photos, so there's a lot of jockeying for the best position.

Each of the cats has its own story. Some were bred to be house pets; others were "retired" from performing. Many were physically abused. Those that were cross-bred, such as the ligers and white tigers, have serious health problems. With the exception of some native Florida cats, none of the animals are rehabilitated and returned to the wild; nor are they used for breeding purposes.

I'll visit the big cats again. Next time it will be the private photography tour. I'll bring a longer lens and tripod, and a very large container of catnip.

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