In case you haven’t heard, there is a dentist from Eden Prairie, Minnesota currently in hiding. Walter James Palmer paid $50,000 and hired two tour guides in Zimbabwe to hunt and kill a well-known lion named Cecil. This lion lived in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park where he was wearing a GPS collar as part of a research study being conducted by Oxford University.
Palmer lured Cecil the lion outside of the grounds of the park (it is illegal to kill an animal on the actual property) by tying a dead animal to the back of a Jeep and spreading its scent. Palmer then shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, which did not actually kill the lion. Forty hours later, they tracked Cecil down with a gun and killed him. The men later skinned Cecil and cut off his head, which mysteriously has not turned up anywhere as of yet.
Keep in mind, the details of this case are only given by witnesses and Palmer hasn’t been charged with any crime, mostly because no one can find him. In a statement released by his lawyer,
“…I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion,” said Palmer.
Now this story is making international headlines, as it should. However, this is not an isolated incident and the treatment of big cats is a systematic problem all over the world. If you ever want to get a true eye opening experience about these issues, I highly recommend visiting Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, just down the road from Busch Gardens.
To be clear, Big Cat Rescue is not an attraction, nor is it a zoo. This is an accredited sanctuary for exotic cats and has around 80 different animals including lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and more who need care. Each story on how these animals ended up at Big Cat Rescue is unique and heartbreaking.
Many of these big cats were held as pets in the United States and could no longer be taken care of by their owners. That’s right, in this country there are many states who say it’s legal to own a big cat and keep it as a pet. What’s worse is the conditions these animals are kept in.
In Florida, a 600- pound, 12-foot-long Siberian Tiger may be kept in a 12-by 15-foot pen. That’s right; the cage can be just as long as the tiger itself and it’s perfectly legal to do so. What often happens is that people buy these exotic pets, put them in a cage, then realize it’s not a good idea and then need help. Instead of killing the animal or releasing it into the wild (both of these things also happen), they contact Big Cat Rescue to take on the animal. On occasion, animals have been dropped off in the middle of the night without notice for fear of embarrassment. I’m not making this up!
The folks at BCR are also huge advocates on trying to change the laws on keeping these animals as pets and the conditions in how they can be kept. The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act is the most important piece of legislation to ever be introduced to protect lions, tigers and other exotic wild cats from being kept as pets and in miserable roadside zoos. They are trying to reintroduce the bill and get some backing behind it. Click the link above to see how you can help.
Big Cat Rescue is a non-profit organization and, as I said earlier, is not a zoo. However, they do give guided tours to help supplement the cost on keeping around 80 animals in captivity. I highly recommend setting up a tour the next time you are in the Tampa area. These cats are amazing to see up close, the tour guides are passionate about this subject matter and you will walk away with a greater understanding on how archaic many of the laws are in the United States regarding the captivity of these magnificent creatures.
For more information visit BigCatRescue.org to set up a tour, to donate to them or even better yet, to read up on legislation they are trying to pass to make a change in the United States. All it takes is five minutes of your time. Share this article as much as you can to spread the word.
Images Copyright: CNN, Big Cat Rescue