In November 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota, Florida, USA, over a direct physical interaction between a human visitor and a jaguar inside the animal’s cage. The 6 months jaguar was “too big, too fast and too strong to be used in public contact, wrote a USDA inspector in an accompanying inspection report that has now been made public.
The animal rights organisation PETA had previously alerted the USDA of the incident on Instagram with a photo showing a Big Cat Habitat guest touching a jaguar without any barriers. Hands-on encounters with juvenile big cats are dangerous and violate the federal Animal Welfare Act, but now that the Big Cat Public Safety Act has been enacted, photo ops and other publicity stunts with big cats of any age are also illegal.
Debbie Metzler, PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Welfare, said: “Big Cat Habitat put a visitor at risk by allowing him to enter a jaguar’s cage. Now that big-cat encounters are illegal, PETA believes the facility needs to send these suffering animals to reputable sanctuaries.”
The USDA report also cited this cat facility for water receptacles being “coated with a green-brown slimy material” and filled with water containing mosquito larvae, and its failure to provide primates with an adequate environmental enrichment program.
Big Cat Habitat is run by the Rosaire family, linked to the exploitation of animals in circus shows for decades. PETA first called on the USDA to investigate the roadside zoo after obtaining footage of a chimpanzee named Chance being yanked by a leash around his neck while forced to perform circus-style tricks. People from the zoo and circus worlds sometimes operate zoological collections disguised as animal sanctuaries, in order to deceive the public they charge to visit them.