Words by Jennifer Essick
Photos by Jennifer Essick and Kerry Speckman
Located near the Northside of Jacksonville, Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary is an amazing place that gives homes to exotic big cats in need. The sanctuary houses lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, bobcats and more all obtained from individuals who had illegal ownership or kept them in improper closures.
The animals are never bought, sold or traded, nor are they bred once they come to their forever home at the Catty Shack Ranch. The organization is driven by volunteers who really go above and beyond to guarantee happy and healthy lives for these animals—and a unique experience for visitors.
Daytime tours are offered every Thursday and Sunday, 1-4 p.m. (last entry at 3:45). Guided walking tours last about 45 minutes, and guests are encouraged to ask questions and take photos. On the tour, guests will visit each of the animals (behind full enclosures, of course) much closer than possible at the zoo. Plus, guides share stories about each of the animals and how they came to Catty Shack.
But for the ultimate experience, guests should check out the night feedings. Offered, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 6 and 8:30 p.m. (with last entry at 7:15), these special events allow guests to watch while the residents enjoy their dinner. They are fed beef or chicken six nights a week and go through about 550 pounds of meat per night, some of which is donated by local restaurants. And while they may look cute and cuddly, they are still wild animals, a fact that will become abundantly clear when they tear into their food.
Speaking of donations, Catty Shack is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization and supported largely by donations. One option is to “adopt” an animal (no, you can’t take them home with you) which helps pay for food, veterinarian care, habitat maintenance and construction, and toys.
The Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary is an amazing experience that is also rated No.1 on Trip Advisors’ list of things to do in Jacksonville, and we are so lucky to have a place that is doing so much good for these animals so close to home. Make sure you head over and experience these awesome animals for yourself!
Reservations are not required, but purchasing tickets online in advance is suggested. For more information, visit Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary.
Jennifer Essick is a media communications studies major at FSU and a member of the Florida State Golden Girls dance team. In her spare time she enjoys dancing, yoga, writing and the outdoors.