Get Up-Close to Wildlife at Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary

Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary Sarasota, Florida family fun attractions

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Help save the big cats of the world by visiting the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary located on Palmer Blvd. in Sarasota, Florida. It’s a unique opportunity to get up-close to a range of big cats including Royal Bengal Tigers, Siberian Tigers, Lions, Rare White Tigers and cross-bred Ligers. With their beautiful markings and athletic ability they are a joy to watch in action.

Kids love to hand-feed goats at the petting zoo Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary Sarasota, Florida

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Unlike a zoo, a visit to this Big Cat Sanctuary helps educate visitors about the threat to these amazing exotic creatures and other environmental topics. Young children will enjoy the petting zoo’s goats, birds, tortoises and other animals. Visitors can also watch the animals at work with their trainers and learn the background story to the residents. Each resident animal also has its own unique personality which can be seen during the fascinating training demonstrations.

Rosaire Family History

The Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary was founded by Kay Rosaire who is well-qualified to start such an incredible non-profit organization for the benefit of exotic wild animals. She has more than 30 years’ experience working with wildlife and comes from a long-established circus family. She now manages the sanctuary along with son Clayton, other members of the family and a team of volunteers who all make the work of this exotic animal sanctuary possible. | Kay Rosaire tiger educational training performance at Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota, Florida.

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Derrick Rosaire Sr. is the 89-year-old patriarch of the family. He started training and communicating with animals as the “Boy Wonder” as part of the family circus act in England. In 1960 he moved to the USA and featured on many popular TV shows. He trained Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion and Judy the Chimpanzee for the popular Daktari TV show along with Gentle Ben the Bear.

Recently Big Cat Habitat’s Handsome the Lion and Chance the Chimpanzee, Chance appeared in the Martin Scorsese directed film, The Wolf of Wall Street. The money earned from appearances by the sanctuary’s animals in films and commercials goes to support this nonprofit. | Handsome the Lion at attraction, Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota, Florida

Photo credit Richard Czina

Animals to See at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary

The sanctuary not only takes in big cats but also bears, monkeys, birds and other exotic creatures that may have outgrown their existing home. Some animals are rescued after working in circuses or being used for photo opportunities as babies and then outgrowing their commercial purpose. Other animals are brought to the sanctuary after being mistreated or abandoned. Each animal has its own story which fortunately has a happy ending when they arrive at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary. | One of the many bears at Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota, Florida

Photo credit Richard Czina

If you want to support this animal sanctuary with a visit, the attraction is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Every day there is a bird show at 1 p.m. and a demonstration showcasing some of the animals in the air-conditioned arena at 2 p.m. It’s well worth planning your visit to coincide with seeing the show. You can see the trainers handling the big cats and demonstrating positive reinforcement techniques to train these big cats. Clayton Rosaire has even been known to put his head in a lion’s mouth, the ultimate trust in his relationship with a wild animal. | Big Cat Habitat Elephant performs during a training session.

Photo credit Richard Czina

Admission — (100%) goes towards the upkeep and caring for the animals. Parking is always free. Other fundraising comes from donations and special events, so check their website and see if there are special events you would like to attend and support this worthwhile organization. You will certainly go home knowing a great deal more about big cats, exotic wildlife, and environmental issues than you did before your visit.

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Written by:

Nita Ettinger is Co-publisher for Siesta Publications Inc. and the Editor in Chief for Must Do Visitor Guides. Must Do Visitor Guides provides Southwest Florida visitor information through printed magazines and the website Must Do magazines are published bi-annually and are available at no cost in Sarasota, Lee, and Collier County Chamber of Commerce, visitor information centers, select Southwest Florida hotels, and wherever free publications can be found.