TAMPA - Cougars, bobcats, lions and tigers— more than a hundred are living out their lives at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa.
And one of the newest arrivals is pretty rare, even by big cat standards.
Freckles is a 16-year-old liger, a cross between a lion and a tiger. There's nothing natural about a liger.
Director of Operations, Scott Lope, says they're a hybrid, bred in captivity that would never be found in the wild.
"It does nothing to save the species. So you can talk all about conservation, preservation, but when you're making ligers or white tigers, that's just destroying genetics we can never replace," he explained.
Lope says Freckles was one of three big cats abandoned in a Mississippi backyard when their owner ran out of money.
"They were literally knee deep in mud, in about two-and-a-half feet of mud," Lope said. "The utilities had been turned off, so the former volunteer who was taking care of them was literally hauling in buckets of water."
It wasn't an easy rescue. Freckles and the two tigers were at the bottom of a hill.
"Just us having to push 500-pound cats up this slipper, muddy hill was so dangerous in itself," Lope said. "Had that cage rolled back, it could easily pop open and run over one of us with a 500-pound cat in it."
Now all three cats have settled into life at Big Cat Rescue. Lope says the tigers are doing well, but Freckles needs dental work a mouth full of broken teeth.
"She had been through many different owners, many different lives, and we know that some of them were a lot worse than others," Lope added. "So she probably broke off her teeth trying to break through the wire, trying to get free."
Freckles, Alex and Cookie will be the headliners at this year's 10th annual Fur Ball to benefit Big Cat Rescue. It's the sanctuary's biggest fundraiser of the year and comes this year in the midst of a recession that's also effecting them.
"Our grocery bill is huge and it keeps getting bigger. These guys eat so much and they eat expensive stuff," Lope said. "A lot of chicken, a lot of steak, then all their supplements that go on top of that...it's a lot of money."
The Big Cat Rescue's Fur Ball is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 9 from 6:30 p.m.-midnight at the A La Carte Event Pavillion. For ticket information, log onto www.bigcatrescue.org/furball.htm .