Today we have a very special guest. Jennifer Leon is here to tell us all about her very important and fascinating career as a Big Cat Rescuer!
Check it out!
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself.
A. My name is Jennifer Leon, and I am the Director of Outreach for Big Cat Rescue, one of the world’s largest accredited sanctuaries for big cats located in Tampa, Florida.
My job involves working with students, teachers, lawmakers, businesses, organizations, and people who care about big cats to make things better for wild and exotic cats. People are often surprised by my last name because it means lion in Spanish! Even more surprising, I’m allergic to cats! But I don’t let that stop me from working for them.
Q. What does Big Cat Rescue do?
A. Big Cat Rescue does three things:
- We save wild and exotic cats from bad situations and provide them a forever home where they are safe, well taken care of, and always loved.
- We work to change the way people treat big cats to make life better for them and stop behaviors that are harmful to wild and exotic cats.
- Lastly, we fight the extinction of endangered big cats by supporting research and projects that protect them in the countries and habitats where they are found.
Q. How did the sanctuary get started?
A. We started in 1992 (ancient history) with the rescue of a single bobcat named Windsong. A taxidermist wanted to buy Windsong from her owner so he could kill her and make a decoration out of her body.
Instead, our founder bought her so she could save her life. Windsong lived a long and happy life at the sanctuary.
Q. What types of cats do you care for?
A. We currently have eleven species of cat – tiger, lion, leopard, jaguar, cougar, serval, ocelot, bobcat, caracal, Canada lynx, and Siberian lynx. We also have one type of hybrid cat named Savannah cats. Savannah cats are man-made cats and do not exist in the wild.
Q. Where do the animals typically come from?
A. Surprisingly, nearly all of our cats came from regular people who tried to keep the cat
as a pet or used it to make money. In many cases, the cats were not taken care of, and when we rescued them, they were sick and unhealthy, in pain, or very scared.
Wild and exotic cats are not like a house cat. House cats have been with humans for over 10,000 years. That is why we call them “domestic” cats because they have had time to get used to humans and rely on us to take care of them. Even so, house cats still bite and scratch us. Wild and exotic cats, the kind of cats we rescue, have never been domesticated – they have never been in our homes and are not used to us.
These cats are wild, and their instinct is to mark their territory (pee everywhere and destroy furniture) and establish dominance (attack with dangerous bites and scratches). They are not meant to be in our homes or businesses, they are meant to be in the wild. So when people try to keep a wild or exotic cat, it’s not only very dangerous for the human, it also bad for the cat.
People often put them in small cages where they can barely move and have nothing to do. It would be like if you had to live in your bathroom your whole life without anything to do.
Sometimes these cats go days without eating or getting fresh water, some get injured or become very sick and are never taken to a veterinarian, and some are purposely hurt by their owners.
Q. Tell us what a typical day at work is like.
A. No two days are the same. I might spend one day in my office researching an issue and the next traveling to attend a meeting or speak to people at an event. Some days I get to be around the cats giving tours or helping with a project going on inside the sanctuary, other days, I may not see the cats at all.
Every day is different, exciting, and gives me a new opportunity to help animals in a variety of ways.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the job?
A. The cats, of course! Each one is unique with their own personality, and I enjoy being around them. But a close second favorite thing is meeting new people all the time and telling them about the cats.
Q. Can people visit your sanctuary?
A. Yes! We give guided tours every day of the week except for Thursdays. That’s when we
complete our more significant projects and take cats on vacation. Yes, vacation! Who doesn’t love vacation, right?!
Nearly all of our cats get to go on vacation for two weeks at a time in one of our two large vacation areas. These are larger cages where cats can smell new scents, see new sights, and experience a different environment. While cats are on vacation, we go into their home to do a deep clean, cut the grass, and update their dens and platforms.
Q. Do you have any advice for our young readers that may want to pursue this type of career?
A. Yes. I meet a lot of students who love animals and want to work with them when they get older. Some of them are really good at science and consider becoming a veterinarian – a career that works directly with animals. But some people have other talents – maybe you’re great at math, love to write, have a knack for building things, or it’s easy for you to get along with new people. You may not realize it, but these too are skills that can help you work with animals!
Just like anything else, sanctuaries are businesses and businesses need a variety of people with different skills to be successful. Yes, we need veterinarians to take care of our cats when they are sick, but we also need people who can balance our budget, write content for our website, build cages and dens, and connect with people who may want to support our work.
So, my advice to you is to figure out what you are good at, whatever it may be, and get really good at it! Then, when the time comes, you’ll find a way to apply that talent towards a career that helps animals.
Q. Anything else you would like to add?
A. Did you know that we have more tigers here in the US, in cages, then remain left in all of the wild?
There are over 5,000 tigers in the country, and fewer than 4,000 remain in Asia. The #1
reason for this is because people breed tigers in the US so they can use their cubs for photos. All across the country, there are businesses that allow children and adults to hold or play with a tiger cub and get a picture with them.
These businesses know that tiger cubs are cute and people will pay to touch them. But, these tiger cubs are taken from their mothers the moment they are born so that strangers can hold them and pass them around. They don’t get to sleep, they don’t get to be with their mother, and they often get stressed out and sick from all the humans holding them.
Before they are even one-year old, they become too big for people to handle, so the business owners get rid of them. This is why we have so many grown tigers suffering in small cages in people’s backyards across the country. And we can only rescue a small number of them.
But all of us can help end this kind of abuse by never paying to hold or take a photo with a tiger cub. It’s that easy! The more people who know how bad this is for tigers and their cubs, the fewer people with support business that do this and fewer tigers will be bred for a life of misery.
Would you like to help end big cat abuse? Take action at BigCatAct.com and support our work by choosing Big Cat Rescue as your AmazonSmile charity. AmazonSmile will donate .5% of sales to the cats at no cost to you!!!
Big Cat Rescue mission is to provide the best home we can for the cats in our care, end abuse of big cats in captivity, and prevent the extinction of big cats in the wild.
Visit their website at; https://bigcatrescue.org
Watch this fun video of big cats playing in boxes!