TAMPA, Fla. – Big Cat Rescue in Tampa will close its doors after 30 years and merge its big cat population with Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, Carole and Howard Baskin announced on Wednesday.
Big Cat Rescue and Carole Baskin became household names after Netflix released the Tampa rescue in the pandemic-era hit show “Tiger King.” In a website post, Carole’s husband Howard Baskin said the decision to close was down to Big Cat Rescue completing their plan to outsource their business so they wouldn’t need the sanctuaries anymore.
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After Congress passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act in December 2022, Baskins’ bill was central to the federal government’s acquisition of radar. The law shuts down cats on purpose, and many sanctuaries have gained more space for big cats. Carole and Howard Baskin declined to comment merger to FOX13.
Tiger in Big Cat Rescue.
“We never expected this, but it turned out to be the perfect place,” said Tanya Smith, president of the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
It remains unclear if the Baskins will have time for when they hope to sell the remaining big cats and close to Big Cat Rescue. The couple indicated in their official announcement that they did not want to talk to the media about the merger.
Turpentine Creek offers more than 400 acres of wildlife, and Smith said he’s taking in 35 of Big Cat Rescue’s smallest cats. Smith shared how the merger came to her attention.
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“Actually, Howard and Carole reached out to Scott and I, my husband, said, ‘We want to come to Tampa to celebrate the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act.’ So, of course, Scott and I really wanted to go, so we’re going,” Smith said. “When we were at dinner one night, it just kind of dawned on us that they wanted to do this and what their plans were. After Howard explained it, it made total sense.”
Tiger in Big Cat Rescue.
Cicero said the cats will have a much larger living space to enjoy in their new home. Over the years, the number of cats to rescue in Tampa has dwindled, as older cats have died, Baskin said. Big Cat Rescue has also spent more time receiving federal funding over the years and operating at a sanctuary has become more expensive, Baskin said in a post.
Since all the big cats have a new home, Baskins said the 67-acre Citron Park property will go up for sale.
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“It’s going to be very expensive,” said land broker Bill Eshenbaugh, president and founder of the Eshenbaugh Land Company in Hillsborough County. “I came to them early in my life, I guess now 30 years ago, 25 years ago. It was quite clear then that there was no interest in developing the developer. We looked at several sites around there. Weve approached the office as a man for sale. I think I looked at that property before the man was built “
Aerial view of Big Cat Rescue.
Eshenbaugh said the property could use a lot of money to go toward new homes or land preservation.
“It represents an opportunity. It challenges a lot of the neighborhood, because there are probably some people around that area that aren’t doing anything in it, but I don’t know what the background is or what the future use of the land will be for,” Eshenbaugh said. “Three hundred single-family units in that location today are worth $50,000 a unit, so whatever the math is, $15 million. This site could make a big park if the money was there from the county or somebody.”
After the property goes up for sale, Big Cat Rescue said it will use the money to fund other projects to save the species.
The Tampa sanctuary has ended its public tours due to a “double whammy of COVID-19 and a negative test from Tiger King.” according to the website. However, the site indicates that they offer a donor tour, in which those who donate $50 or more per year could spend time visiting with one guest.