Additions to the sanctuary include primate condominiums, aviary, expanded petting zoo and large koi pond. Elephants also will be given a permanent home at the sanctuary with the planned construction of a new elephant house and enclosure.
10:30am Ceremony November 20th
Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, a nonprofit safe haven for big cats, bears and other animals in need, will celebrate the grand opening of its first major expansion today with help from its animal friends. Cutting the ribbon at a special 10:30 a.m. ceremony at 7101 Palmer Blvd., Sarasota, will be Chance, a three-year-old chimpanzee, who is back home from New York City where he finished filming his big screen debut with co-star Leonardo DiCaprio in the upcoming Martin Scorsese movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The gates will open to the public at 12:30 p.m.
The expansion includes a new aviary, larger primate “condominiums”, a koi pond, and expanded petting zoo area, said Kay Rosaire, Big Cat Habitat’s founder. The $150,000 expansion was made possible through private gifts from Russ and Sharon Stephens of Siesta Key, who sponsored construction of the Russ and Sharon Stephens Aviary, and the Nelson Trust as well as individual donations to the project. Admission fees and contributions made by visitors to the sanctuary also were important to completion of the project, Rosaire said. Generous donations of time by Sentry Protection Technology, Denham’s Aluminum & Screen Services, and Stuart Home Services made the new expansion possible, she added.
In addition, ground will be broken soon on a new $150,000 hurricane-hardened elephant house and enclosure, Rosaire said. The 7,000 square foot elephant house and visitor center will accommodate at least two elephants. Community support for an additional $50,000 in donations is needed to complete the project, she said. Construction of the concrete reinforced block building, which will be hurricane hardened to withstand winds up to 240 mph, will get under way with support from Armour Tight Concrete and R.D. Johns, Inc., both of Sarasota.
The new aviary has enclosures for the larger exotic birds, including blue macaws, cockatoos, and others. It includes natural touches like a rock wall and water feature. A special enclosure will allow smaller birds to fly free and be hand fed by visitors. The primate condos include expanded climbing opportunities, activity areas and enrichment toys.
The sanctuary recently gave permanent homes to several residents that now are housed in the new primate area, including lemurs and spider monkeys from a private collection. A large pond with a waterfall was built to house koi rescued when King Richard’s Family Fun Park in Naples, Fla., closed earlier this year, she said. The petting zoo has been expanded to add a climbing tower for the goats and an enlarged tortoise enclosure. It also allows more interaction with the animals, which include peacocks, turkey and other fowl, and ostrich-like emus, including the emu that Sarasota County Animal Control rescued in October after finding it wandering near Fruitville Road.
“We are so grateful to everyone who helped us provide homes for more animals in need with this expansion. Exotic animals may have multiple owners in their lifetime, but our promise is to provide a permanent home to every one that comes to us,” Rosaire said. “We believe in the human-animal bond with all our hearts, and with a few exceptions, like the koi, every one of them has a name. Our goal is to provide for their mental and emotional well being with stimulation and companionship as well as taking care of them physically.”
Big Cat Habitat is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Check http://bigcathabitat.org/visit/calendar/ or call 941-371-6377 for days and times of operation. No reservations are necessary, and parking is free. Refreshments also are available. Admission is $15 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under, and annual passes are available. More information can
be found at www.BigCatHabitat.org or by calling 941-371-6377.