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Big Cat Habitat: Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

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A safe haven for an assortment of exotic animals, Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota, FL, is currently home to almost two dozen Bengal tigers, eight lions and even a couple of enormous ligers, a cross between a male lion and a tigress.

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These beautiful animals are living out their retirement years in safety and security thanks to Kay Rosaire, an eighth generation animal trainer with over 30 years of experience working with African lions, Royal Bengal and Siberian tigers. Rosaire, a recognized expert in animal husbandry pertaining to lions and tigers, has dedicated herself to the rescue of unwanted big cats in need of a safe, permanent home, and is committed to maintaining these animals for their lifetime, which may be as long as 20 years, or double their normal lifespan in the wild.

At the Habitat, a covered walk-through adjoins the big cats' housing complex, where visitors may view the animals up close, but from a safe distance. The Habitat's well-informed caretakers are more than happy to talk about each animal’s background and personality and answer any questions. An adjoining exercise habitat, offering a shady expanse with pond and fountain, allows each cat to be rotated out regularly for exercise and enrichment.

An educational training demonstration using positive reinforcement techniques is held daily at 2:00pm, where Rosaire and her son Clayton educate visitors as to the plight of these magnificent wild animals and their shrinking habitats.

As well as housing big cats, the Habitat also offers a permanent home to several Kodiak, Brown and Himalayan bears, as well as several chimps, lemurs, macaws, cockatoos, Sulcata Tortoises, and other animals. Younger visitors may especially enjoy the petting zoo-style area where pygmy goats, llamas, a kangaroo, emus, spider monkeys and other animals are on view.

An "Animal Extravaganza" fund-raising event is held annually to help support the care and feeding of the animals.

Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary is open five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, from 12:30pm to 4:00pm, and is located at 7101 Palmer Blvd., in Sarasota, FL. Admission is $15 for adults and $7 for children, with free parking. A 60-minute demonstration at 2:00pm is included in the price of admission. For more information, visit their website at bigcathabitat.org.

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