A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of visiting the Big Cat Habitat, which is located in Sarasota, Florida. Apart from being well-known for its world-class beaches, Sarasota has a long legacy of being a center of circus history. For many years, Sarasota was the winter headquarters of the Ringling Brothers Circus, and as such, many circus families have developed roots in Sarasota. One such family, the Rosaire family, has dedicated its post-circus days to operating the Big Cat Habitat, which, since 1973, has served as a rescue facility for not only big cats, but also bears, primates, birds, and many other exotic species.
As a rescue facility, the Big Cat Habitat does not breed its animals; rather, all of its animals are rescued, such as from pet owners who realize that caring for a 400-pound big cat is not something that they can do on their own.
The Big Cat Habitat is home to just over 50 big cats, approximately half of which are tigers. The rest of the cats include lions, leopards, ligers, panthers, servals, and some other smaller exotic cats. A large portion of the property consists of outdoor yards that are shared by the cats – different cats have access to different yards throughout the day.
The Big Cat Habitat recently opened its newest exhibit area: Take a Walk on the Wild Side. This is the main viewing area for the big cats, and it is home to the park’s largest resident: Brutus the liger. Weighing in at over 1,000 pounds, Brutus is an astonishing sight to see. Brutus and the other cats appear happy, healthy, and active on their exhibits, which are equipped with pools and climbing apparatuses to keep the animals engaged.
The first residents of the Big Cat Habitat you would encounter on your visit will actually not be cats at all. There are a number of bears that also call the Big Cat Habitat home, and the ability to see these bears up close was the most impressive experience of the day for me. Other animals in the park include monkeys, coatis, parrots, camels, and even a zebra.
The hub of the Big Cat Habitat is the show arena, where the Rosaire family puts on wildlife encounter shows each day. The first show of the day is a bird show that features a number of macaws and cockatoos, and the second show features a few of the park’s rescued big cats. The shows include some impressive animal behaviors, but they also dedicate time to teaching the visitors about why exotic animals generally do not make the best pets. The shows explain why places like the Big Cat Habitat are important as refuges for animals, such as big cats, that people mistakenly believe can make good personal pets.
The Big Cat Habitat is open most days of the week from 12pm – 4pm, and a visit to the park is a great opportunity to learn about big cats, the issues surrounding the exotic animal trade, and the dangers facing exotic animals in the wild.