Today Trevor, Bob, and I drove almost 90 miles to Tampa, Florida. We packed quite a bit into one day – a visit to the Big Cat Rescue Center, to the University of South Florida, and to the historic Cuban area of Ybor.
The Big Cat Rescue Center ( www.bigcatrescue.org ) is the largest big cat rescue center in the world. The history of this noble effort is interesting. Carole Baskin and her husband were at an exotic animal auction to purchase llamas when someone walked in with a bobcat kitten on a leash. They purchased the kitten and found it was such a good pet that they wanted another.
They located a place in Minnesota selling lynx and bobcat kittens and went to pick one out. When they found out that the kittens were all being raised for fur, the Baskin family purchased all 56 kittens and the rest of the cats too. They paid a good price with the agreement from the fur farmer that he would no longer stay in the business of using cats for coats.
We learned today that it takes 20 bobcats to make one fur jacket. The only part of the animal’s fur used for fur coats is the belly. Harrison Ford once stated “When the buying stops, the killing can too.”
Today the sanctuary occupies 45 acres in Florida and they do not have enough room to take in more big cats. The big cats that come to the sanctuary have come from a variety of backgrounds.
Most of them were purchased to be pets but wild animals are not domesticated and either they grow out of the cute stage, have become a nuisance, or even hurt someone. Other big cats were performers. Still others were rescued when the mother had been killed by hunters.
Through trial and error the rescue center owners and staff developed some policies. The animals are fixed so they won’t procreate. Having kittens that will spend a lifetime in a cage doesn’t seem ethical to them. The cats are touched or petted although some are obviously used to this form of showing affection.
While the center attempts to replicate the type of environment the cats might encounter in nature, many of them have spent their lives in small cages and have been abused. They don’t know how to climb, hunt a live animal, or survive in nature.
One of the saddest stories is about white tigers. Most of them are so inbred that they have a variety of genetic deformities. They really are beautiful though!
The Big Cat Rescue Center does not let people just wander around. There are two tours each day for people at least 12 years old. On the weekends there are special tours where younger children can be included. The reason they limit the tours of children is that the big cats are excited by the small beings darting about. They may not know how to hunt but they still have instincts to do so.
This center is the real deal. Many of the volunteers are college students who are studying zoology and have a passion for the big cats. I highly recommend that if you are in Tampa, visit the center. You may find yourself considering donating funds to help feed and care for these lovely animals.
We made a quick trip to the University of South Florida to just drive through the campus. This is a huge university with approximately 40,000 students. It was beautiful but we didn’t stay long for our first visit. We will come back on another day to speak with admissions, take a tour, and decide whether or not it will be on our son’s “short list”.
Next on our agenda was a trip to Ybor, Tampa’s Latin Quarter which founded in the 1880’s by cigar manufacturers who moved their operations from Cuba. Cigar manufacturing is a specialized trade and to attract workers the factory owners built hundreds of small houses in the area. Cuban and Spaniard experienced cigar makers and later Italian unskilled laborers immigrated to Ybor and contributed to its culture. In the early 1900’s Germans, Romanian Jews, and Chinese immigrated to this area too. Today the area is known for its restaurants, nightlife, and shopping.
Our first stop was at the Columbia Restaurant ( www.columbiarestaurant.com ).
We had previously visited one of its offshoots in St. Armand’s Circle and were impressed. I wanted to visit the flagship location, first opened in 1905. It is considered one of the landmarks of Tampa and is known for its casual but elegant and authentic Spanish/Cuban food, Flamenco dancers in the evenings, and the adjacent shop with hand painted pottery and hand rolled cigars. The temperature today was in the high 90’s and we were more thirsty than hungry but could not resist sitting in the historic covered courtyard, near a fountain and snacking on Tapas Mariscos (seafood appetizers).
From there we walked through the charming and eclectic streets that were somewhat reminiscent of parts of New Orleans. Wrought iron balconies, exotic blends of sights, smells, and sounds all filled our senses and urged us to further explore. Eventually we came upon the Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Restaurant ( www.tampabaybrewingcompany.com ). The brew master David showed us the 10 barrel brewing system and we ordered a sampler of all of their beers. It was a large selection and we were quite thirsty. If you enjoy microbreweries and the opportunity to get a first hand education in beer, this is a fun place to visit. They are located in the central plaza of Centro Ybor in a palm lined plaza.
We truly enjoyed our visit to Tampa and look forward to exploring it again. But for today, these were enough adventures.
Be well and dream great!