Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota, Florida, has a grandiose name, but don’t be fooled: It’s no haven for animals. In November 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) slapped it with a critical citation over a direct physical interaction between a human visitor and a jaguar inside the animal’s cage. A USDA inspector emphasized in an accompanying inspection report that the jaguar’s age—approximately 6 months old—made the animal “too big, too fast and too strong to be used in public contact.” On January 12, 2023, the USDA issued Big Cat Habitat an official warning over this incident.
PETA had previously alerted the USDA to photos of the incident posted to Instagram, showing that a Big Cat Habitat guest touched a jaguar without any barriers in place. While the agency had already recognized that hands-on encounters with juvenile big cats are dangerous and violate the federal Animal Welfare Act, now that the Big Cat Public Safety Act has been signed into law, photo ops and other publicity stunts with big cats of any age are illegal.
“Big Cat Habitat put a visitor at risk by allowing him to enter a jaguar’s cage,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Welfare Debbie Metzler. “Now that big-cat encounters are illegal, PETA believes the facility needs to send these suffering animals to reputable sanctuaries.”
In its November 2022 report, the USDA also cited Big Cat Habitat for the following:
- Water receptacles that were “coated with a green-brown slimy material” and filled with water containing mosquito larvae
- Its failure to provide primates with an adequate environmental enrichment program
Big Cat Habitat is run by the notorious Rosaire family, which has exploited animals in abusive circus shows for decades. PETA called on the USDA to investigate the roadside zoo after obtaining footage of a chimpanzee named Chance—who appeared alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street—being yanked by a leash around his neck while forced to perform circus-style tricks. Many animals at the sleazy facility live in small concrete cages and exhibit signs of psychological distress.