If you are around the Indianapolis area and don’t mind traveling a short bit out of the city (about an hour), I would highly recommend going to the Exotic Feline Animal Rescue center (website) for a visit. They are the largest big cat rescue in the US, housing over 200 cats. The people who work there are mostly all volunteers, and when you are around them and the big cats, you can see that they love the cats they work around (and the cats love them back). The center adopts cats from neglected, abused, or forgotten large exotic cats from around the US. The goal of the center is to provide a place for these wonderful cats to live out their lives in a safe and good environment, often living to twice the age of what they would have lived in the wild. The second objective is to bring awareness and educate the public on these astonishing critters.
Unlike a zoo, you are right up close within centimeters of these cats. For the smaller cats, it isn’t a problem. But, larger cats in the 600 plus pound range tends to be fairly intimidating when they charge the fence and leap at you, just like your pet dog when you get home from work being happy to see you. When you are up close and personal with a big cat, they lose their sense of intimidation from being around them, and they are frequently just like your house cat. You realize they mean something to this world.
If you do go, take a comfortable pair of shoes and wear comfortable clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. You will be walking down a path, going up and down stairs, and traveling over approximately 20 acres of land. Their primary tour lasts between 50 minutes and 2 hours, all depending on your pace to get through the facility.
One of the biggest problems I had was remembering to not touch the cats. The cat’s exposure to humans are very obvious, and they crave that human interaction that most had before being rescued. Many would put their head on the fence and rub the fence, just hoping to have a scritch or pet behind their ears. Still, the facilities has a no touching the cats policy. The longer you are there, the more you forget they are big cats and how perilous they are when you are right next to them. To me, this is dangerous. Even with the fences in place, the facilities very cautious handling of these animals, and the constant reminders of what they can do, you still forget how vicious they can get.
If you like these images, another photographer spends quite a bit of time there photographing these large animals. Click here to go to his Flickr stream of images for more.
Some interesting facts as of July of this year about EFRC:
– there are 210 big cats from 9 species
– They provide a home for life, and stable social groups
– 12 people run and manage the facility
– don’t buy, sell, or breed cats
– They have accepted average of 2 cats per month from 24 states over the last five years.
– They feed their cats 3,500 lbs of meat a day
– A permanent enclosure for a big cat costs aroun $25,000 to build
– There are no cement enclosures at EFRC – all are wooded areas found in nature surrounded by appropriate fencing and caging
– Two people can spend the night at the facility in their guest house
– You can adopt a cat for $1,500 (includes photo, adoption certificate, and passes to visit)