So anyhoo, right from the start there was a HUGE difference in this place when compared to the Big Cat Rescue. Instead of having a guide take us around the sanctuary to tell us a little about each of the animals and to make sure we didn't harass the big cats, they pretty much just set us loose to look at the animals ourselves. This was both good and bad... good because it gave us as much time as we wanted to look at or photograph specific animals without feeling rushed to keep up with the rest of the group.... and bad because we don't have a chance to learn the individual stories of the animals. That is always my favourite part!
After we entered the sanctuary, the first animals we were greeted by were the bears.
That was actually pretty cool, none of us expected to see bears! I do wish that someone would have been there to tell us the story as to how these bears got to be in this sanctuary - but there was no one to be seen. I also quickly realized that the animals in this sanctuary did not have little name plates up like the Big Cat Rescue did, telling us their names and a tiny bit of their story - they just had signs up telling you what kind of animal they were. That was the first thing I noticed that this place was lacking in.
We finished passing through the bear exhibit, and came up upon some camels. Not exactly what any of us expected to see after the bears... so far this place was full of surprises! There was a worker there offering to sell us food to feed the camels. None of us indulged, but we did pet them and chat with the camel handler a bit. I tried to get some laughs in with the "watch out, they spit!" line, but camel guy ruined my shtick by correcting me with "Actually, they don't. It's llamas that spit." Try telling that to the genie, guy!
I was curious exactly what would have caused the need for the camels to come to a wildlife sanctuary... were they drug lord camels? Were they abused or neglected pets? When I asked this of camel guy, he looked at me kind of strangely. "Uh, well, we wanted camels, so we got some." Oh, of course. How silly of me!
The next area we walked through seemed more like a children's petting zoo than a wild life sanctuary. There were goats and chickens all over the place! Some were roaming free, some in were pens. You could pet the goats, and just like the camels, you could feed them for a price.
This little guy really wanted us to feed him. He was very cute, and jumped up on us like a puppy.
Not sure why this goat had to be in the pen when the other one got to roam free!
In the petting zoo section, there was also a bird that brought back memories to my days in Australia. That's right, folks! They had an emu! It was a bit of a scary bird... it wouldn't move at all. It just stood there... staring at us. Kind of made you wonder when he was going to strike! Yes, these birds can be creepy. Imagine this guy standing over your bed at night!
And of course, no children's zoo is complete unless it has turtles! These guys were pretty "randy" while we were there. If I had ever before wondered what sounds a turtle might make while... pro-creating... well, I certainly don't wonder anymore! If you get my drift. Ahem.
Behind the turtle enclosure there were a few aviaries full of birds. It was mostly full of cockatiels, but there were a few parrots as well - and this was the noisiest part of our little tour.
A woman in the bird area told us that these birds were mostly pets that the owner was not able to care for them... or in the case of some of the bigger birds, the birds had outlived their owners. She also told us that the emu we had just seen was a HUGGING emu. And that it welcomed hugs from one and all. So, we gave it a try!
Yeah yeah, I know I'm more "posing" with the emu than "hugging" it. But really, who are you to talk! I don't see you hugging a 4 foot tall bird! I guess if you really want to see the emu being hugged, I can show you this video of the bird lady hugging the emu.
Right next to the aviary there was another throwback to my Australia days... they had wallabies! I wonder if these guys were abandoned exotic pets as well? But who keeps pet wallabies in this day and age? I mean really!
Next came the monkeys. (Sorry guys, we are still not up to the big cats! But monkeys can be fun! Be patient!)
To me, the cages for the monkeys seemed to be really small, and the monkeys were mostly segregated from each other. Maybe I am just anthropomorphizing here, but these little guys seemed very sad and lonely. I think that even in most zoos, the monkeys have a bigger habitat than these little guys did.
"Hi, I'm in jail. But I'm innocent, I tell you!"
"Why can't I play in the trees?"
"Aren't we at least supposed to get one phone call?"
This monkey to the right was pretty insane. He was running back and forth in his cage making all kinds of crazy noises! I have no idea why he is wearing a chain around his neck, so don't ask. But looking back at this picture makes me feel so sad! It's reminds me of one of those pictures you would see on a television commercial, telling you to donate to abused, neglected or abandoned animals. I don't know, maybe these monkeys were perfectly happy here, and maybe they are permitted to come out of their cages when the touring hours are over... but I still would have liked to see them in a different habitat. Bigger cages, more toys, and more trees to swing on. But I guess I shouldn't really judge. I'm not a monkey specialist. (Yet)
In the next area, we saw lemurs! They didn't stay still long enough for me to get a very good picture, but I have this video to entertain you with. Yes, I am singing in it. But I couldn't help myself. They were doing a little dance!
And now, finally! Right past the lemurs, we saw this sign:
I was excited to get to the cat area, as then I would be able to really compare the Big Cat Sanctuary to the Big Cat Rescue.
Before we got to the cats, there were still a few more monkeys to see. For all you Lion King fans, I'm sorry to say that I have discovered that Rafiki is now a captive monkey...
And for those of you who love my fabulous videos: (by the way, video taking wasn't allowed in this place. But I am such a rebel.)
Yes, that was me pretending to be a monkey. I wasn't trying to tease the little guy, I was just hoping to have him come a bit closer. Actually, this reminds me of a time when I was a little Karen... I was outside playing, meowing and pretending that I was a cat. Suddenly, I was surprised and delighted to see a cat jump up onto the fence from inside a neighbors yard and look at me before jumping back down into the yard. I thought, "maybe I can fool it into thinking a real cat is out here!" I ran back home as fast as my little legs would carry me to get one of my toy cats, then ran back outside and placed my toy cat near the fence. I hid a bit further back and started meowing again. The cat never came out. I was so disappointed.
But anyway, back to the monkeys! I am anxious to start writing about the cats, so here are a just a couple more monkey pictures before I get down to business!
And now, to the big cats!
This was probably the saddest part of the entire tour. The cats area was mainly indoors... each cat had a small caged area with concrete for a floor. Some of the cages had two cats inside - but most were one cat per cage.
When I first saw the cat area, it made me think of something the Big Cat Rescue tour guide had showed us: there was an area during the tour that showed you the size of the smallest permissible cage size for a big cat, and there was a little enclosure you could step into to see what it would feel like for a human to be confined to a cage relative to that size... As you can imagine, it was not very big. When I looked at these cages, I was pretty sure they were close to being that size - the smallest size cage permissible for a big cat.
There was a little outside area that the cats were able to go out and play in, but they were only able to do this one at a time. There were somewhere around 20-30 cats, so if even if each was to have a little time a day or a week, they couldn't really have much time out there for any one cat.
While we were there, it was this tigers turn to be outside, but it seemed that he preferred to just lay on the inside, looking out. It may have been because of the heat of the day - even though it was after 5, it was still a scorcher! I think that the cats that get the evening outdoor times are the lucky ones! It is much cooler after the sun begins to set.
Lisa, these lion pics are for you! Sorry they are caged.
Here is another lion. You might immediately assume (like I did) that it was female, because there is no mane. But actually, this guy is a male. Interesting little known fact - male lions will lose their mane if they are neutered.
Now for the white tigers! At least these two guys had company. I think I remember being told that they were brothers... but I'm not positive. One of the downfalls of me waiting so long to write the blog is that I forget what I was told. But seeing as there weren't that many workers around to answer our questions or tell us about the animals, I guess I didn't have too much information to forget.
One of the most memorable parts of our big cat visit was when one of the tigers guys peed on one of the girls with us! Ok, it wasn't really pee, it was just marking it's territory. And, ok, it didn't actually HIT her with the pee... but it did come pretty darn close!
I asked a woman worker who was monitoring the big cats if there were any interesting stories about how they came about to possess all of these cats. She said that some of them were rescued, some were pets that got to be too much to handle, but a lot of them were retired show animals. She explained that the founder of this sanctuary is (or was) an animal trainer for the circus, and the animals at the sanctuary are still sometimes out on tour with shows. Their animals are constantly handled and trained, a stark difference from the way they do things at the Big Cat Rescue.
The last cat in the row of cat cells was Charlie B. Apparently, poor Charlie has irritable bowl syndrome... and hasn't been able to eat much. Now, I'm not a vet, so I guess I have no right to really say anything without knowing the whole story... but wouldn't you think once an animal gets to this stage, you should either tube feed him or put an end to his suffering? He was alive though - I could see him breathing. You sure can't tell from this picture though.
Poor little Charlie B. You will be happy to know that his prognosis is good though!
Well, that was pretty much the end of our tour. Honestly, I don't think I would come back to this cat habitat. I don't know if the reason for this is because the Big Cat Rescue biased me... I don't know if I would feel differently if I had come to this place first. Maybe if the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary had a tour guide who explained all about the place while we visited, and talked about each of the animals as we saw them, it would have changed my mind. But I just really liked how knowledgeable they were at the Big Cat Rescue... and I loved the big enclosures those cats had. I also liked that they didn't use their cats as entertainment... those were not circus animals. If those cats felt like being seen, they would be, otherwise they could be as alone as they wanted. But this place... it just felt... kind of sad. Like a zoo that kept it's animals in too-small cages.
Anyway, I should stop now. We all know (or most of us know) how opinionated I can sometimes! So if anyone is in the area and wants to check out the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, I invite you to make up your own mind!
I did have a good time though. I was in fantastic company, and it is always nice to do something new.
Before I end this post, I will show you a video of the bear-guy we saw on our way out. He told us that he sings to the bears, and feeds them chocolate cake! But he did not do it for us on video. Sorry.
OK, that's it for now! Next blog will be about the horseback riding on the beach. I'm gonna try to do it this week, but you know how I am! (read - lazy)