Carole Baskin, known for her role in the popular Netflix documentary series "Tiger King," has announced the closing of her 30-year-old Big Cat Rescue center in Tampa, Florida. According to her husband, Howard Baskin, the majority of the center's wildlife will be transported to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, where they will be provided sanctuary for the rest of their lives. This move comes as a result of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which was signed into law last year and prohibits the private ownership of big cats, such as lions, tigers, leopards, and cheetahs.
In recent years, as capacity at other sanctuaries increased, Big Cat Rescue went all-in on getting the BCPSA passed, investing the majority of its resources into the bill rather than rescues. Despite the fact that Big Cat Rescue has dealt with a significant fixed overhead expense of over $1.5 million annually, Baskin explained that it would be difficult to spend that amount per captive cat, when the funds could be allocated to preventing the animals from going extinct in the wild. Therefore, Baskin and her husband decided on a separate “win-win solution” for both the sanctuary’s captive cats and the cats in the wild: merge Big Cat Rescue’s population with the population of another existing accredited sanctuary and devote the center’s remaining resources to various global “in situ” projects that seek to prevent big cat extinction.
The chosen sanctuary is Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, which Baskin described as “sitting on 450 acres in an area where expansion even beyond that is possible”. Turpentine’s founder and president, Tanya Smith, stated that the sanctuary is taking measures to accommodate the incoming cats from Big Cat Rescue. “We anticipate the construction will be completed within the next six months. This increased space will not only accommodate the remaining cats at Big Cat Rescue but some additional space for other rescue needs,” she said.
In 2020, the Big Cat Public Safety Act was introduced to the US Congress with the aim of prohibiting private ownership of big cats and cub petting. The bill was sponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Mike Quigley, and was signed into law in December 2022. According to a report by World Animal Protection, there are currently more tigers in captivity in the US than there are in the wild worldwide. Many of these big cats are kept as pets or used for entertainment purposes, often in substandard conditions.
In addition to the Big Cat Rescue center, Carole Baskin has caught global attention due to the Netflix documentary "Tiger King," which covers the world of illegal wildlife traders and the feud between Baskin and her nemesis Joe Exotic, a former zookeeper who is serving time in prison for trying to hire someone to murder Baskin. Meanwhile, authorities have reopened their investigation into the disappearance of Baskin's former millionaire husband, Don Lewis, who vanished in 1997.