In a remarkable transformation, what was once an expanse of vast enclosures housing over 200 tigers has now dwindled down to a mere 39. And for Howard Baskin, that is precisely the outcome he had hoped for.
“It was an enormous amount of work,” Baskin reflected, contemplating the journey that led to this pivotal moment. “An enormous amount of expense.”
During a recent tour of Carole and Howard Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, the couple showcased how they have ingeniously connected the remaining cages, creating more spacious environments for the cats residing within their sanctuary.
However, a significant deadline looms for private owners of big cats. The Big Cat Public Safety Act, recently passed, requires them to register their animals with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Sunday, effectively concluding the era of unregulated private ownership.
“They’re not allowed to breed more or to acquire more,” Baskin explained, emphasizing the need for accurate documentation. “Well, how are you going to determine whether they did or not? The only way to do that is to have a baseline of what animals they owned.”
While the government does not intend to seize any cats from private owners immediately, the long-term objective is to phase out private ownership altogether, potentially leaving the Baskins with more cages than cats.
“If they have not registered by tonight at midnight, then they’re in violation of the law,” Baskin cautioned. “If they’re discovered, they will have their cats confiscated and face other penalties.”
Despite some reservations about the Netflix documentary series ‘Tiger King’ and its portrayal of their organization, Baskin acknowledged its role in raising awareness for their cause.
“It built an awareness that we had no other way to build,” Baskin acknowledged, recognizing the impact of the series. “So when we talked to legislators and staff, they at least knew of this issue.”
Baskin further noted that his initial conversation with Carole, his wife, revealed a broader aspiration to enact change beyond the confines of the Big Cat Rescue.
Last week, Representative Kathy Castor, who had represented the Baskins in the early stages of their journey over 20 years ago, visited the sanctuary to commemorate the passing of the law.
“I have watched this refuge grow,” Castor reminisced about her involvement. “Unfortunately, it’s grown because too many people have been abusing these big cats.”
Looking ahead, the Baskins have plans to relocate all their cats to a refuge in Arkansas by the end of the year. They also intend to sell the Big Cat Rescue land, utilizing the funds to propel their advocacy efforts even further.
As the final day for private owners to register their big cats under the new legislation draws near, the landscape of big cat ownership and conservation is on the brink of transformation. The Baskins’ unwavering dedication and the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act signify a step toward safeguarding these majestic creatures and promoting responsible stewardship in the years to come.