Hands-On Policy Statement 

Some people are concerned that we are very hands-on with our animals. It may seem that we are just encouraging more human interaction with a wild animal, which in fact we are. The difference being that the wild animals we interact with are non-releasable and will live the remainder of their lives in captivity. We would never promote or suggest that people take animals from the wild and turn them into pets. This is actually the exact opposite of our educational mission.

However, for the animals that make their homes with us, we realize that their needs are different than their wild cousins. Many of them were ex-pets and used to human interaction, or came to us as a result of abuse or neglect. By forming social bonds with our staff and volunteers, the animals learn to trust us and we become part of their family units. We also have much better access to these animals to check on and maintain any health or behavior issues.

We always follow strict safety protocols, especially when it comes to our large predators. Direct access to our large predators is restricted to trained senior staff, and is only authorized under very specific circumstances. The majority of interactions with our larger predators is through at least one fence, and these interactions are always supervised by one of our senior staff members.

However, through the fence, our big cats and other larger animals take it upon themselves to come up to their favorite staff and volunteers to say hello and a little ear scratching. Our tigers in particular greet us with sound called “chuffing.” This is actually a greeting they share with members of their pride and family unit. They see us as family and are happy when we come send time with them.

Studies have actually shown that animals in captivity who have strong social bonds with their caretakers are healthier and more stable. We have countless success stories of how our hands-on approach actually helped turn one of our rescued animals around. For example, our male Black Asian Leopard, Makoto, was going to be put down because he was considered to be too dangerous to manage, even in captivity. When he came to us, it was clear why he was so aggressive. He was starving and had been mistreated for many years. The Florida Fish and Wildlife officers who brought him to us didn’t think he would survive anyway, given the state he was in. That was seven years ago. With the love and care we provided him, Makoto stabilized quickly and has become a very loving leopard, who now lays down in front of his cage at feeding time so that we can scratch his shoulders and neck before he eats. To this day, when the original Fish and Game officers visit, they marvel that he is the same animal they originally brought to us. Makoto’s turnaround was nothing short of miraculous, and we attribute that to not just good food and a stable home, but lots of TLC.

Another instance of how our approach benefited our animals was during the three hurricanes that passed over Central Florida in 2004. Our senior staff was able to safely move two panthers, a leopard and several other animals by leash to transport cages in order to locate them to a more secure area. By contrast, a local zoo had to tranquilize their animals, and ended up killing one of their cougars by knocking it out, waiting too long to enter the animal’s enclosure, and having it drown in a puddle while unconscious.

So, while it may not always be initially understood by some people, we stand behind our highly interactive policy with our animals. We feel that it is in their best interest, and it is one of many ways we try and offer our animals the best quality of life possible.

If you have any questions or concerns about this or anything regarding our work at The CARE Foundation, please call me directly at 407-247-8948.

Thank you,

Christine Burford
Founder, Director and Head Trainer
The CARE Foundation