Sanctuary gives big cats a second chance at a better life

Lions, tigers find new home in Osceola County

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Located in East Osceola County is a special animal sanctuary that's getting results for some very unique animals. 

It's considered to be one of Florida's largest facilities where lions, tigers, leopards and cougars have found a caring home after the big cats could no longer be taken care of by their owners or were found living illegally in someone's home.

"They have come from pet circumstances, they have come from breeding circumstances, we've had some law enforcement confiscation, but no matter what their story is, our mission is to make sure that they can have the best life they can," said Dr. K. Simba Wiltz, CEO and senior vice president of Central Florida Animal Reserve.

The facility currently houses 23 big cats. Wiltz said the mission of the organization is to provide a lifetime home for these animals while educating the community about their needs, care and the importance of conserving them out in the wild.

"In the wild, their primary threat would be infection and injury but here, because we can manage that, we have to deal with chronic conditions... so that's going to be things like arthritis, cancer, in some cases organ failure," Wiltz said.

Gipsy, an Asian leopard, arrived more than a decade ago with a severe case of allergies that took a toll on the fur around her face. Although now her scars are still visible, her attitude is that of an appreciative animal.

Currently, the veterinarians examine them inside their wooden enclosures, which is a bit of a challenge and why the organization is in need of a clinic on site.

To make that happen, they've started a campaign.

"A big part of that mission was providing value to society today and in order to do that, we have what we call the 3 V campaign," Wiltz said.

Having a clinic will help with the animals' overall well-being.

"Our veterinary center is going to help us better handle the care and handling of these cats for long term medical needs. Our viability efforts are just making sure that we can keep these cats alive and happy with us so the next generation can experience them," Wiltz said.

The visitor center is currently under a tent, but they hope to have a 1,300 square-foot building by the end of the summer.

"It will house our education center, our gift shop ... this will allow us to do more educational programs, to interact more with the public," facility manager Phyllis Parks said.

But it's not just about giving these animals a second chance at a better life, animal education is at the core of the organization's mission.

"We do that by taking care of our animal residents and giving people the opportunity to see the work that it takes in order to keep them amongst us," Wiltz said.

The facility also does guided tours with hopes people will have a greater appreciation for these animals and be inspired to keep them protected in the wild.

The nonprofit organization operates solely with donations and volunteers. If you're interested in taking an educational tour, those are provided on Saturdays and Sundays with a reservation.

The cost of the hour-long tour is $25 for adults and $19 for children between 10 and 17. Kids under 10 pay $15. 

To learn more or make a donation to the organization, click here.

About the Author: