cat fancier who's watched the big-cat shows on the nature channel
has noticed the resemblance between the leopard stalking a wildebeest
on the Serengeti plain and the kitten stalking a bug on the kitchen
floor. Most people know that the similarities, while striking,
end where the TV screen does. But there are those who conclude
that a leopard is merely a bigger, more exotic version of a house
cat - and decide to buy a little one to raise for themselves.
How very wrong they are - wrong enough to have kept Judy Watson
busy for the past 17 years. That's how long Watson has worked
at rehabilitation facilities for exotic animals. Last September,
she took the step from being a volunteer to being top cat - she
founded the Survival Outreach Sanctuary, a nonprofit, no-breeding
sanctuary in Spring Hill, Fl. Watson will be one of the conservation
exhibitors at the college of Charleston's Lightsey Conference
Center during this weekend's Southeastern Wildlife Expo.
She'll have with her a cougar named Jayla, a serval named Rudy,
a white-faced brown lemur named Bosco and an African Hedgehog
named Homer. Watson says the cougar is her ambassador representing
the endangered Florida panther - one of her special causes.
Survival Outreach Sanctuary cares for all kinds of exotic wildlife
that people have given up on because the animals turned out to be
more - much more - than they bargained for. "People think they're
going to make pets of them like they would a cat or a dog, but they
have no clue what it takes to raise these animals," she says.
"They don't lose their predatory instincts as they get older.
Often people are looking to get rid of them when they're six months
The goal of the sanctuary is to rehabilitate the animals and release
them back into the wild - and to educate people about them. Education
starts early, with the sanctuary spending much time offering programs
for school children. "Our main goal is to be sure people learn
that these animals are not meant to be pets," she says. The
cats Watson will bring to Charleston are not "pettable."
She says allowing people to touch them would contradict her message
that these animals are best appreciated at a little more distance.
While people can't touch them, simply seeing them is enough to forge
a bond, she says. "With the animals, we can get people's attention
and make the dangers that they face more personal for people,"
she says. Also, people end up standing around looking at these beautiful
animals, and then they start talking to us about them. "That's
how attitudes change."