You probably recognize Carole Baskin from the infamous show Tiger King. While people may have their opinions about her, it’s clear that she has a massive heart for exotic cats. From a young age, she’s been an animal rights advocate, wanting to do her part to end animal abuse. Now, she runs one of the largest accredited big cat sanctuaries in the world.
“I would not even begin to think that I knew everything about exotic cats, but I do know that they don’t belong in cages,” Carole said. “Unfortunately, if they’ve been born in a cage, they’re doomed to spend the rest of their lives in cages. But, we can do everything possible to end the practice of breeding wild cats for life in prison.”
Carole says that she discovered her passion for protecting cats at a young age. When she found out that overpopulated shelters killed some cats, she made it her life mission to end the practice. She knew she’d need a lot of money to fund her dream, but that didn’t stop her. She worked three jobs sometimes to save money for a big cat rescue.
An incident that caused Carole to start rescuing cats
“By the time I was about 31 or 32 years old, I ended up at a live animal auction where I was buying llamas. By this time, I had built a huge real estate portfolio, and I would turn the llamas loose. So, I was buying these llamas, and the guy next to me starts bidding on a bobcat. I leaned over and said, “When that cat grows up, she is going to tear your face off.”
He said, “I’m a taxidermist; I’m just going to club her on the head in the parking lot and make a den decoration out of her.”
This moment fueled Carole’s passion for opening a big cat rescue
After hearing his plans for the bobcat, Carole was horrified and begged her husband to bid on it. They won the bid and came home with the cat. However, the cat had been declawed and was from out-of-state, so that they couldn’t release it. This opened her eyes to the dark side of the big cat industry, so she rescued as many as possible.
She ended up rescuing 56 cats from one fur farm, then 28, and 22 more from a third farm. Soon after, she got phone calls from people asking if she would take their lion or tiger. She realized the problem was even more significant than she thought. However, this motivated her, even more to save as many exotic cats as possible.
Keeping a positive mindset also helped her stay focused on her goals. She knew she couldn’t let fear of failure get in the way of her mission.
“I was raised by both my mother and my grandmother, and I learned to read when I was very young on things like The Power of Positive Thinking and Psycho-Cybernetics. So, I knew that if I put all my resources into ending these problems, I could do it.”
While it took her nearly 30 years to establish the big cat rescue, she never gave up. To her, every big cat saved from a life of abuse or neglect made it all worth it.
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“Now, we have about fifty big cats that we provide a lifetime home to. These are animals who were not born in the wild and could never be released back to the wild. These have come from backyard zoos, from private owners and horrible situations.”
Her vision for the future
A huge part of running the big cat rescue involves raising awareness about cat laws. She and the staff at the sanctuary have contacted Congress about passing the Big Cat Public Safety Act. This would end cub handling and phase out private possession of big cats. People who already own cats can keep them, but they cannot buy or breed more.
Carole says the most rewarding part of her work is when they can release a cat back into the wild. If they can rehabilitate an injured cat and send them back to their natural habitat, that’s a win in her book.
“I love seeing them being able to run free and to reclaim their birthright. That’s what makes me happy, and our amazing volunteers and staff. We have about 12 staff and 88 volunteers, and these people are working day and night in all kinds of weather to make sure that these animals who can’t be set free are given the best possible experience and that the animals we can rehab and release get that second chance at life,” Carole said.