During Matt’s last visit to Jacksonville, we decided to take the kid to visit the Catty Shack Ranch just down the road from my house. The Catty Shack is a sanctuary for endangered big cats that have been confiscated by state and federal wildlife officials for a number of reasons including illegal ownership, mistreatment, neglect, etc. (sometimes the cats will end up on illegal hunting ranches once the previous owner refuses to care for them). They’ve also taken in coatimundis, artic foxes, and a few domesticated cats that enjoy welcoming the new volunteers during the monthly meetings. The organization’s most recent acquisition (one that has become an unexpected benefit to the Catty Shack) came in the form of tiger cubs (!!!) which I’ll get to in another post. But first, a little backstory and a brief telling of my first visit to the sanctuary.
The Catty Shack houses and cares for lions, tigers, cougars (also known as panthers, pumas, mountain lions, and so on), leopards, servals, and the other aforementioned wild animals. The cats’ enclosures far exceed the standards set by the state of Florida and once a big cat is brought to the Catty Shack, they have a permanent home for the rest of their lives, which, depending on the species, varies from 15 to 25 years. The sanctuary’s curator, Curt LoGuidice, shared with those of us at the night feeding event that these cats eat approximately 500 pounds of meat a night. 500 pounds each and every night! As you can imagine, donations (of time, money, supplies) are greatly appreciated and, in case you’re wondering, 100% of all donations to the Catty Shack go directly to the care of the animals they shelter.
The weekend night feeding we attended was the first time I had visited the Catty Shack Ranch. Because of the overwhelming interest in the cubs, more people than expected showed up on both nights that were open to the public. Though the cubs were not out (they still sleep a lot!), people were genuinely excited and eager to get as close as possible to the cats. This kind of public interest is fantastic! Matt, Elle, and I watched in fascination as Curt and his dedicated staff of volunteers worked through the event with a lot of enthusiasm. They certainly did not disappoint! The volunteers here at the Catty Shack Ranch definitely have a special and intimate closeness with the animals and it’s pretty incredible to see it happen, especially because some of the volunteers enter the enclosures to feed the tigers and lions. The word trust just seems to fall immeasurably short in describing this kind of relationship.
Some Big Cat (rawr!) numbers (global populations) obtained from Defenders of Wildlife:
- Tigers – fewer than 3,200 exist in the world today
- Amur Leopards – fewer than 50 (yes, FIFTY) in the wild
- Lions – only about 21,000 still roam the entire continent of Africa
- Florida Panthers – obviously very close to my heart, and only between 100 to 160 may still exist in Southwest Florida
(I did go back the following weekend to see the cubs during an open house event. I’ll share photos of that visit in another upcoming post. Also, I will have many more stories to share with you about the Catty Shack Ranch as I will be volunteering with them beginning this week!)