Green Gato Visits The Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue

Jeff & Jenny's first big cats, Pebbles & Bam Bam, relaxing in their spacious enclosure

Jeff & Jenny’s first big cats, Pebbles & Bam Bam, relaxing in their spacious enclosure

The Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue is located in Rock Springs, Wisconsin; just a hop and a skip from Chicago or Madison, WI. Owned and operated by big cat enthusiasts Jeff and Jenny Kozlowski, this sanctuary was brought to life strictly by their own funds and the donations of fellow cat-lovers. Many people wonder how these big cats ended up at the rescue, and why big cats would need to be rescued. Green Gato went to visit the sanctuary this week and got some face-to-face time with Jenny for an in-depth look at The Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue.

When we arrived, we were prominently greeted by Jenny in the admittance booth. She was full of enthusiasm and energy, and clearly cared very deeply for the cats. She immediately offered us as much information as we were ready to take in. Jenny was up front about their mistakes with photo lions in the past, and ready to talk all about what their mission was. As we stood and talked with Jenny, visitors came in and out and seemed to know the cats and Jenny and Jeff well. In such a small town, it was great to see a community dedicated to giving these big cats the best quality of life possible.

Why did Jeff and Jenny open the WBCR?

Each enclosure explained the cats history and allowed visitors to donate to a specific cat of their choice

Each enclosure explains the cat’s history and allows visitors to donate directly to a cat of their choice

Back in 2002, Jeff and Jenny decided to purchase two lion cubs for commercial use. They had heard of many big cat owners making good money from providing the big cats for souvenir photos, and thought that with their love of the lion cubs, they could make a living in an enjoyable profession. However, Jeff and Jenny could tell that the photo business was putting the cubs in distress, even with their efforts to keep them calm and happy. They had heard of other big cat owners abusing their cats for these souvenirs by sedating them with drugs and physically abusing them in order to keep them calm for pictures.

Jeff and Jenny knew that this simply wouldn’t do, and began to learn more about the exotic animal trade. They contacted other rescues throughout the country, and learned about the huge demand for more big cat rescues to be available. They decided to build cages and pens and with their own savings from the photo business as well as donations to begin their journey of building a cat sanctuary. In the first year of opening, Jeff and Jenny ended up with 6 cats. As of today, they house over 28 cats and are hoping to expand.

The Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue’s Mission Statement “is to provide a safe place and a comfortable home for abused,neglected, and unwanted big cats and also to educate the public about these extraordinary animals and the actions that necessitate the need for Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue & Educational Center.”

Where do the cats come from?

The first cats that Jenny and Jeff housed were their own cubs; a male and female lion named Pebbles and Bambam. The rest of the cats ended up at the WBCR for a variety of reasons, including:
– Private owners purchase the big cats as cubs, and realize that they cannot care for, control, or provide adequate surroundings for the cubs once they grow up
– Zoos are either overfilled or don’t find the animals “attractive” enough to be placed in the zoo
– People who use the cubs for the photo business and then can no longer care for the big cats once they grow up
– The cats were rescued from an abusive situation; either in a zoo, circus, or in a home

In most cases, if these animals don’t find a sanctuary, they will be euthanized and disposed of. In the years that Jeff and Jenny’s sanctuary has been open, they have had to deny over 15 big cats of housing. This is why it is so important for the sanctuary to expand, for more sanctuaries to open, and for the public to become informed about the dangers of purchasing a big cat.

What kind of cats do they have, and how many?

Sierra, the WBCR's resident standard leopard, surveying her territory

Sierra, the WBCR’s resident standard leopard, surveying her territory

As of today, the WBCR is home to 28 big cats. They have 16 tigers, seven lions, and three leopards. Between all of the enclosures, most house between 1-3 cats per space. Each enclosure has different agility courses, napping spots, and toys catered towards the breed. For example, the leopards have space to jump and climb, while the lions had more comfortable shady resting spots to enjoy.

Having these big cats in the sanctuary provides them with a much longer lifespan and better quality of life than they were receiving in zoos or homes. For example, a tiger lives on average for 15 years in the wild, but only 10-12 years in a zoo. In sanctuaries, tigers have lived longer than 26 years. When we visited, the cats seemed happy and content. Their enclosures looked spacious, clean, and comfortable. It was 11am, and almost all of the cats were enjoying naptime in all kinds of silly sleeping positions.

How much does it cost to take care of the cats?

Each cat costs Jeff and Jenny approximately ten dollars per day to feed. This equates to $70 per week, and $3650 per year. You can imagine how these costs stack up, and with 28 cats, that comes to over $100,000 per year. The funds for these cats come from donations from visitors, sponsors, and private donations.

What do the cats do in the winter?

One of the sanctuary's many tigers trying to fit into a small space, behaving much like their smaller cat-cousins

One of the sanctuary’s many tigers trying to fit into a small space, behaving much like their smaller cat-cousins

Jenny assured us that the cats are just fine in the winter; the biggest toll is taken on Jeff and Jenny, as they have to do lots of shoveling daily to keep the cat’s enclosures comfortable and safe. Since the cats are adaptable mammals, their body temperatures can adjust in the winter to cooler climates.

How can you get involved?

If you are interested in getting involved with the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue, there are a variety of ways that you can help.

Donations: Donations are how the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue stays open. Jeff and Jenny offer a few different ways to get involved through donations. You can simply donate any amount, or donate to support a specific cat. You can find out all about how to donate here.
Visiting: All funds from visits are donated towards the Big Cat Rescue, and you can enjoy a plethora of experiences, depending on what you’re interested in. We visited on a Wednesday and took a self-guided tour, which allowed us to view the cats at our own pace. They also offer a Founders Tour, hosted by Jeff and Jenny, a Morning Feeding Tour where you get to see the cats have an all out feeding frenzy, and a Night Tour, providing a guided tour of all the cats during the time when they’re most active.
Goods Donations: Listed on their website, Jeff and Jenny have compiled a “wish list” of things that they need to keep the sanctuary going. This includes everything from garbage cans, to toilet paper, to cleaning/office supplies, and more. You never know what extra supplies you’ve got laying around that could instead be put towards helping a great cause.
Legislation: One of the main reasons why abandoned big cats have become such a huge problem is due to the lack of appropriate legislation. Legislation when it comes to big cats typically varies from state-to-state. For example, Wisconsin requires no license or permit to purchase and house a big cat whereas other states have completely banned ownership of any exotic pets. Guidelines for zoos and circuses vary from state-to-state as well. You can help by finding out about the laws in your home state and paying attention to any legislation that may be moving towards eradicating poor living conditions for these majestic creatures.

If you are interested in visiting or have any questions for the Wisconsin Big Cat rescue, you can email them at info@wisconsinbigcats.org or visit their website at wisconsinbigcats.org. Their Facebook page is updated regularly, with big cat photos, news, and events happening at the rescue. The Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue is located at 305 Pine Street in Rock Springs, Wisconsin, so if you’re in the area, be sure to stop by! Their visiting hours are between 10am-5pm on Saturday and Sunday, and by appointment only on weekdays.

Green Gato would like to thank Jeff and Jenny for being so accommodating and allowing us to plan our visit last-minute.