JACKSONVILLE, Fla — **Watch the full story tonight at 11 p.m. on First Coast News**
For more than a month now, Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary hasn't had its usual stream of visitors or its usual stream of income from ticket sales.
“We are a self-funded organization so what has happened is the visitors coming have not come, and we can't have them,” Curt LoGiudice explained.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the sanctuary has been closed to the public. It's had to find new ways to reach out and is now inviting the world to see what is going at Catty Shack Ranch virtually.
“We're doing virtual feedings on Friday and Saturday night which were really some of our biggest nights here at the sanctuary where up to 300 or 400 people would come in an hour's time,” LoGiudice said. “It’s been really wonderful to see 8,000 and 10,000 people viewing our Facebook live.”
Catty Shack Ranch is home to about 40 tigers, lions and other exotic animals. Many of them were rescued from zoos that closed. LoGiudice is quick to point out his wildlife sanctuary does not buy, sell or breed animals.
“No matter where we get them and what age will we get them from zoos and facilities that close, it's important for them to know that when they come here that they have an opportunity. It's the rest of their life, and it can be a happy environment for them,” LoGiudice said.
From a Facebook Live educational series for kids to virtual yoga with the tigers, Catty Shack Ranch is finding innovative ways to raise money to help the big cats.
“People from all over the world chime in and say hey we're watching and you know wonderful animals, and it’s really been a team effort that really has gotten us to where we're at today,” LoGiudice said.
The sanctuary, which has grown over the years from five acres to now 225 acres, started breaking ground on an expansion project at the beginning of the year.
“We hope maybe somebody out there watching would have an interest in helping sponsor a new educational building, a new medical facility, always benefiting the animals and the folks that help care for them and the visitors,” LoGiudice said.
It takes a lot to care for the animals.
“Right now, we're probably feeding up somewhere around 450 to 500 pounds. During the wintertime, I've fed up to 650 pounds of meat a night.”
For now, you can watch the nighttime feedings live on Facebook, but
Catty Shack Ranch hopes to reopen to the public soon. Until then it's relying on support from its virtual visitors.
“You know maybe at the beginning of the month when more
things open that we can be a part of that also benefiting the animals and of course people as folks get out and enjoy the outdoor atmosphere and some beautiful creatures," he said.
You can watch the virtual feedings Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. on Catty Shack’s Facebook page, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4 p.m. you can meet some of the smaller animals in its virtual educational series. If you're interested in helping the non-profit its always looking for sponsors.