Tiger King’s Carole Baskin is saying goodbye to her Big Cat Rescue

Baskins say goal has always been to ‘put ourselves out of business’

FILE - In this July 20, 2017, file photo, Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, walks the property near Tampa, Fla. A federal judge in Oklahoma has awarded ownership of the zoo made famous in Netflix's Tiger King docuseries to Joe Exotic's rival, Carole Baskin. In a ruling Monday, June 1, 2020, U.S. District Judge Scott Palk granted control of the Oklahoma zoo that was previously run by Joseph Maldonado-Passage also known as Joe Exotic to Big Cat Rescue Corp. (Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times via AP, File) (Loren Elliott, Tampa Bay Times)

Carole Baskin, who became a household name after the Netflix documentary “Tiger King,” is selling Big Cat Rescue.

Baskin has owned the Florida rescue for three decades and according to a news release from her husband Howard Baskin — the goal has always been to “put ourselves out of business.”

In the news release, Howard details a myriad of reasons why the 67-acre rescue is closing and cites the passage of legislation that protects big cats, the cost of maintaining care for the animals and his and Carole’s ages as factors in the decision.

The Baskins have entered into an agreement with Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, an accredited sanctuary in Arkansas, to merge their big cat populations.

“When Big Cat Rescue was founded 30 years ago, the 67 acres that Big Cat Rescue occupies now was rural. Today it is surrounded by development,” Howard said in the news release. “In contrast, Turpentine Creek sits on 450 acres in an area where expansion even beyond that is possible. Because Turpentine Creek already has the fixed infrastructure in place to house its existing 80 big cats, once enclosures are built, adding 30 or so more cats only adds the variable costs of keeper care, food, and medical care. This means donor funds are used much more efficiently by consolidating the cats at Turpentine Creek.”

He said the cat population at Big Cat Rescue has become increasingly geriatric and the number of animals in their care has dwindled from 200 down to 41.

“As recently as 2011, when we started working on the Big Cat Public Safety Act (BCPSA), we had 119 big cats. Of those, 89 were over fifteen years old,” Howard said.

The BCPSA was signed into law in Dec. 2022.

The BCPSA does two things — it ends cub petting and phases out private ownership in backyards by people who do not have a USDA Exhibitor’s license, according to the news release.

In addition to the passage of the BCPSA, Howard said the rescue’s overhead is currently running at $1.5 million per year.

“When we had 100 cats, that $1.5 million in overhead was $15,000 per cat. At 41 cats, it is over $36,000 per cat. As the population declines, it becomes an increasingly inefficient use of donor funds per cat to operate a facility like ours,” he said. “Even if funding levels did hold up, it would be difficult in good conscience to spend that much per captive cat when the funds are so needed for projects to keep the cats from going extinct in the wild, the third prong of our mission.”

Howard said he and Carole have come to know Tanya and Scott Smith who operate Turpentine Creek and think they’re the right fit to care for the remaining animals at Big Cat Rescue.

“Turpentine Creek has an excellent cat hospital and will have a full-time veterinarian,” Howard said.

“Turpentine Creek is open to the public for tours, so our staff, volunteers and donors who have supported our cats can visit the cats there. Turpentine Creek is located near the quaint town of Eureka Springs which is a very popular tourist destination. Signs on our enclosures that recognize donor contributions will move to Turpentine Creek with the cats.”

Turpentine Creek is located in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

You can read more about the merger on Big Cat Rescue’s website.

About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.