Historic big cat workshop brings sanctuaries together for the first time

2013 Big Cat Workshop participants at Carolina Tiger Rescue.“When people talk, great things happen.”

I heard this tagline on a TV commercial a few nights ago just before I fell asleep in a North Carolina hotel. We had just finished the second day of the first-ever Big Cat Sanctuary Workshop, co-hosted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) Wildlife Rescue Division and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS).

So last weekend, representatives from 21 big cat sanctuaries, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) GFAS, and IFAW met in Durham, North Carolina to discuss common problems and concerns, share ideas and successes, and for the first time for many, put a face to the name.

Many of the individuals at the workshop had spoken to one another on the phone numerous times, coordinating rescues and placements for big cats, but had never met in person. Similarly, a large percentage of the sanctuary participants rarely knew who to call when they needed help, as networking in this community has been historically limited. This workshop aimed to bridge these gaps.

Topics covered at the workshop ranged from board development and fundraising, to disaster preparedness, marketing, media communications, compassion fatigue, advocacy and hot topics in big cat husbandry, such as providing best possible care for geriatric animals.

Participants at the 2013 Big Cat Workshop held at Carolina Tiger Rescue.On the third day, we took a tour of the Carolina Tiger Rescue, not only to get outside and enjoy the beautiful fall weather, but to also to demonstrate how one facility operates its volunteer, intern, education, and enrichment programs.   

Bringing many of the leaders of the sanctuary world into the same room served to be an immensely worthwhile endeavor, as it inspired communication, support and respect for those sharing the burden of providing lifelong care to displaced, unwanted, and abused big cats in the United States.  

A young American poet by the name of Mattie Stepanek, who faced a brief lifetime of incredible challenges, dying only a month before his 14th birthday, once said “Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”

In less than 24 hours since the first Big Cat Sanctuary Workshop, I believe we have seen the proof of this message.

Not only did the workshop succeed in bring many people together for the first time, but it ignited a movement of unity which we will not let die out.

Plans are currently underway to develop a network and provide a new platform for sanctuaries across the country to share information about rescues, developments in policy, safety regulations, animal care and more.

It is now on all of us to ensure that the momentum built up over the past few days will not be short-lived and that U.S. big cat sanctuaries will have the opportunity and passion to work together to end the big cat crisis in this country.

-- KD

Learn more about our work with big cats in the US, go to ifaw.org/bigcats today.

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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy