This time last year I found myself at the bottom of a 250 foot gorge watching women ascend massive chunks of ice at the Ouray Ice Park in Colorado. If you were to tell me that a year later I would find myself in Tampa Florida at Big Cat Rescue taking pictures of lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats and more, I would have said, "That's not gonna happen." This just proves that I have no psychic powers whatsoever. No wonder I never seem to win the Lotto.
The Journey to Big Cat Rescue
This opportunity, like many of life's grand adventures came to me from out of the blue and in order to take full advantage of this opportunity, I would have to sit behind the wheel of my Jeep and traverse the roads of Florida for three hours. Most people loathe the idea of driving more than 20 minutes. Me? I knew there was a bright big rainbow at the end of this journey.
For those of you who have never driven across the state of Florida, it has an interesting topography. It's mostly flat and mostly below sea level. In the early morning hours dense fog banks cling to the grass as spectral palm trees rise from the mist.
As I step out of my vehicle to capture this image my mind wanders to the classic horror movie, “American Werewolf in London" where two eager backpackers were warned to “Stay off the moors!” Was there something moving in the fog just outside of my field of view? I reach for my zoom lens to get a better view and the voice of reason whispers, “Get back in your Jeep, you idiot.” I wrestle with the idea and then the voice of my son chimes in, “Get back in the Jeep, you idiot.”
This time I listen and quickly scramble through the wet grass back to the Jeep. I had managed to wander a good 50 feet from the safety of my vehicle. Was there something following me? Of course there was! Life would be boring if “things” weren't always following me through the misty fog.
Let the Tour Begin!
I consider myself lucky. I have had some great opportunities in life and they just keep coming. My trip to Big Cat Rescue was no different. To say that it was fantastic would be an understatement. To say that it was incredible is also not fair. Have you ever sat within 30 feet of a full grown male lion while he told the world who was boss by roaring for about 45 seconds? Chilling is a good word for this humbling moment because I could feel the hair on the back of my neck start to stand up as goose pimples rose on my arms. A worthy finale to any tour but the rest of the tour was equally as impressive.
As we moved through the sanctuary eagerly spying on tigers, bobcats and leopards something that I had never considered started to become very apparent to me and my faith in humanity went up about five notches. Not solely because of how well the big cats are treated but mostly because of the dedication that goes into keeping these cats happy and healthy. The Big Cats are the main attraction here but the people who run this place are the real stars.
Volunteers from all over the world dedicate their lives to helping these big cats. There are two words in that sentence that you should take special note of, volunteers and dedicate. Not many people volunteer their time let alone their lives to helping animals in need. The people at Big Cat Rescue are heroes in my book and I am very happy to have met them and their big cats.
Thank you Mark, Chuck, Trundy and Katie for taking us on this awesome tour, treating us like family and sharing your passion for these impressive big cats! I can now cross one more item off of my bucket list.