For Father’s Day, my dad and I took a day trip to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center (EFRC) in Center Point, Indiana. With over 200 cats living there, the EFRC is one of the largest sanctuaries for abused or neglected exotic felines in the United States.
I had visited the EFRC twice before, and my love of the place has kept me coming back time and time again. What’s truly unique about the rescue center is how close visitors feel to the animals. Unlike the distant enclosures and thick glass paneling you see at zoos, the EFRC has a relatively simple setup of double chain link fences and huge open spaces for the cats to roam.
However, it’s important to note that although you can get relatively close to the cats at times (they like to rub against the fence and see visitors), the EFRC has strict rules about the distance visitors must always have between them and the fence.
The EFRC was founded in 1991 and has grown exponentially since then. Although this makes for a wonderful place to visit, it’s extremely sad to think that this many animals require shelter from abusive homes. The stories of many of the felines are downright heartbreaking. From tigers being kept in dog runs to leopards being allowed to roam free in homes with toddlers, their stories highlight how incredibly cruel and idiotic people can be sometimes (seriously, who thinks having a lion as a pet is a good idea?).
The EFRC is largely run by trained volunteers and donations made by the community. Though the meat given to the cats is often purchased by the rescue center, citizens in the area also call the EFRC regularly to have them pick up fresh road kill (like deer) to feed to the cats. I understand this might sound strange to some of you, but the EFRC takes the utmost care of its felines and knows how to spot rancid meat (don’t worry, the kitties are all happy).
The highlight of my trip was definitely the tigers. During my past visits, many of the cats had been sleeping or lying in tall grass to avoid seeing visitors. This time, the tigers were all extremely active and responsive.
One particular tiger began chuffing at our tour guide, which sounded like a low grunt or an odd dog bark. Apparently, this is how tigers express affection and convey greetings—who knew tigers could be so friendly?? After chuffing at us for a bit, the tiger backed up in its enclosure and began “stalking” our guide through the fence. At the last moment, it jumped into its water tank and splashed the group with a huge wave of water. No joke, my heart melted a little at the sight of this big kitty relaxing in its bath.
I also got some glamour shots of a Savannah—a domestic house cat that’s been bred with a African Serval. Savannahs are considered domestic cats after they’ve been bred enough times with regular housecats but are illegal to own in some states. I personally don’t agree with this method of cross-breeding, as it often results in cats ending up at places like the EFRC.
To fully appreciate the EFRC, you really just have to visit it. The tour is eye opening, to say the least, and whenever I visit the rescue center I come away with a newfound appreciate for exotic felines and the time and effort required to keep them healthy and content.
The team at the EFRC is absolutely amazing. The vet on hand does operations on a volunteer basis and has dealt with issues like cataracts, nerve damage, and disfigured paws due to irresponsible declawing. New enclosures are being created each year to ensure that the cats have plenty of room to run and play, which is often a stark contrast to the confined spaces many of them were imprisoned in before coming to the EFRC.
For a truly unique and uplifting experience, I highly encourage you to visit the EFRC or a similar facility near you. These big kitty cats require lots of time and energy to keep them healthy, so you can rest easy knowing your entrance fee is going directly back to the felines.
Though I love the rescue center, I must admit to being rather partial to my own exotic felines. You just can’t beat a tiny ball of fluff!
Oh, and if you do visit the EFRC and you have a Harley Davidson motor cycle, you should definitely ride it in—the lions love roaring back to a Harley’s engine when it’s revved!
What’s your favorite exotic feline? I’m rather partial to cheetahs, though I think I’d poop my pants if I ever saw one in the wild.
PS. There really were more cats than just the tigers, they just happened to be the most photogenic.
PPS. Sorry for the lame-o captions. What can I say? I’m a total cat lady.