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Bay News 9 Investigative Reporter Chris Hawes' Expose on Carole Lewis Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

Subject: Big Cat Rescue Investigative Reports by Bay News 9's Chris Hawes and WTSP Channel 10's Mike Deeson and others
Sources: Bay News 9 TV, WTSP TV, Dateline TV, Big Cat Rescue Website and Newsletters, St. Pete Times, Better Business Bureau

In March of 2006, Bay News 9 Investigative Reporter Chris Hawes did an expose' on Carole Lewis Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue. Hawes "combed through hundreds of pages of documents" to uncover this story.

These are the some of the same documents the researchers now have at their disposal. Excerpts from these documents, Big Cat Rescue newsletters, website entries, and the TV interview, mixed with our comments, follow.

Reporter Chris Hawes tells us, "The first page of (Big Cat Rescue's) website mentions how it provides a home to "abused" and "abandoned" cats. However, former volunteers say many of the cats living there weren't in need of being rescued, and that they were bought from breeders to be bred".

"(Baskin) wanted to one day have the largest private collection of exotic cats in the world," said Debra Sandlin, who volunteered at the facility from 1997-2001".

The former volunteers pointed to examples of cats listed on the website as, "born into the pet trade". "The majority of the animals that are listed on the web site where it says born into the pet trade were actually born there (at Big Cat Rescue)," said Sandlin.

Some animals the web site tells us, "came as a result of the pet trade", as in the case of Fluffy the serval. Hawes called Fluffy's seller, Sandra Flaherty, on camera. Sandra said Fluffy "was sold (to Baskin) as a pet and possible breeder". Baskin's explanation for this lie was that she was the pet trade back then and that she has nothing to hide. If she has nothing to hide, why then would she not just say that she bought Fluffy as a pet and possible breeder? Baskin claims her 'sanctuary' is dedicated solely to abused and abandoned cats. Are cats bought as pets or breeders "abused and abandoned"? Why mislead her supporters? Why make people think "the pet trade" was responsible for her actions?  We discovered that Baskin also bought Fluffy's littermates in the same transaction, also for $1000 each. Where are these cats today? Was one or both of them sold? Were they "abandoned or abused"?

It's pretty obvious that Baskin wants to blame "the pet trade" for the collection of cats that she herself bought and bred but is it ethical or honorable to blame "the pet trade" for a cat you paid a $1,000 for, with the intention of breeding her? Baskin claims that she has always been upfront about the cats she bought and bred. If that is true, why not tell the truth; that all of the 144 cats she began her 'sanctuary' with were actually bought or bred there? Bought from fur farms and auctions, not to "rescue" them, but as pets and breeders or to be resold. Should donors not have an opportunity to decide for themselves if they want to feed and support Baskin's former pets and breeders, which is basically her personal collection of cats?

Another serval cat is described on the web site as coming to Big Cat Rescue after "a pet shop owner was afraid she would bite children who taunted her". Hawes called this former owner on camera also. "Not a word of it is true," said the cat's former owner. She said Baskin bought the cat for $1,000. This cat, Nairobi, was used as a breeder and is the mother of Kongo and Tonga, two male white servals born at BCR in 1997. Why the lie? Why mislead donors into thinking this cat was rescued from taunting children? Why doesn't Baskin just tell you that she bought Nairobi to breed her? We also spoke with the Fort Myers owner of this pet shop who told us that she never did business with Don Lewis, only with Carole Lewis (Baskin), and that this was not their only transaction, that Carole was always looking to buy or trade cats for breeding. 

One of the most convincing pieces of evidence for many of Baskin's critics is a video of the tiger cub Shere Khan. BCR's web site says he was "unwanted, uncared for and could not walk." However, a home video narrated by Carole Baskin shortly after the tiger cub was bought for $800 tells a different story. "This is Shere Khan. He was bottled raised in a a loving and nurturing home." Why the lie?

Baskin stood by her story of Shere Khan's abuse despite video showing him standing on his hind legs and frolicking in a tub of water. "He could lift himself, but just barely," Baskin said. Anyone watching the video that Baskin narrated, advertised, and sold in the Animal Finder's Guide can plainly see that the cub was perfectly normal, but normal tigers do not tug at people's heart and purse strings. Invented storied of neglect and abuse do. Baskin now says Shere Khan's romp in the tub of water was "therapy for his atrophied legs." How could he stand, jump, and frolic in the water shortly after he arrived when she claims he could not walk? Why the lies?

Baskin has always blamed the breeding of the cats on her missing millionaire husband, Don Lewis. One statement on her web site claims no exotic cats have been bred there since Don went missing in 1997. Volunteers who worked there however, say that is simply not true.

When confronted with a newsletter announcing the imminent birth of caracal kittens, Baskin said, "You got me on that. I just, I don't know. It's not on my list of cats that we currently have." Why didn't Baskin know about these kittens, who's "imminent birth" she advertised in her newsletter? Why aren't they on her list? Could it be because they were sold as pets, along with Baskin's book, Exotic Cats As Housepets"?

The 1998 newsletter shown to Baskin states that, "(Crackle) is pregnant right now and is due any day. We are all very excited about our soon to come additions and can hardly wait." Yet in Baskin's web site rebuttal she says, "we thought that one of the caracals was pregnant, but we must have been wrong because there were no kittens after that time (1997)".

So are we to believe that Carole Baskin, the expert on breeding exotic cats as housepets, was mistaken that one of her caracals was due any day? Why would she say she was excited about the imminent birth, and could "hardly wait" if she was no longer breeding kittens? Why the lies?

In other newsletters, all dated after Don disappeared in 1997, we're told, "New life has been brought to (Big Cat Rescue)! Enya, a female cougar was born to Glory and Cocoa". This newsletter goes on to tell how Enya is being raised as a pet and "loves to play with Elijah, a male caracal who lives in the house". Enya and her littermate Fleetwood were declawed to be used as "cabin cubs" at Baskin's bed and breakfast. For more on the cabin cubs, see the video at the link at the bottom of this page.

There were also lemurs and binturongs born after 1997 and in 1998 Baskin purchased rare male and female Fishing Cats, Pisces and Aquarius, as well as a mated pair of Geoffrey Cats, Marco and Saratoga, from a Miami animal broker.  Baskin also blamed buying cats to breed on husband Don Lewis, but these cats were bought after Don was disappeared. Also born after Don's disappearance (by Baskin's own admission) were serval and hybrid bobcat kittens.

A 2000 newsletter states, "We celebrated the births of the very rare and endangered leopard cat. It also mentions Baskin being "honored to have been loaned five Sand Cats" and states her desire to "participate more fully in exotic cat propagation (breeding)". We're told that the Fishing Cats also gave birth this year but that the kittens were hidden from all but a few trusted staff and the volunteers were lied to.

As late as 2001 Baskin's newsletter says, "We reveled in the birth of Missy E, the Amur Leopard Cat as the only one of her kind to be born in this hemisphere last year". Reveling in the birth of a kitten doomed to spend the rest of it's life on exhibit in a roadside tourist attraction billed as a rescue. This cat was not abused or abandoned. She was not an accident. Missy was bred to add to Baskin's collection. Why the lies?

Why does Baskin continue to blame all the buying and breeding on a dead man? Why does she continue to claim that the only cats born after Don disappeared were "accidents"? Do you "celebrate, revel in, get excited about, and can hardly wait for" the births of accidents? Caracals, cougars, amur leopard cats, fishing cats, servals, bobcats, lemurs and 3 binturongs all accidents? After telling Chris Hawes there had been no breeding since Don disappeared in 1997, Baskin in 2011 finally admitted in a phone call to reporter Mike Deeson that there had been no breeding in 10 years, or since 2001, just as we have always reported. Why the lies?

Baskin's response to this expose' was predictable. She hurriedly changed all the biographies of the cats again. Instead of "born into the pet trade" they now "arrived at Big Cat Rescue"or some similar terminology. Why, if she was not trying to deceive the public, would Baskin quickly cover her tracks? Look for the cat's biographies to change once again now that the truth has been posted here.

Next Baskin posted a rebuttal on her website claiming that she was "wrongly accused on nothing more than gossip and slander" by Chris Hawes. Yet hundreds of pages of evidence had to pass the scrutiny of Bay News 9 attorneys before Hawes was permitted to air the facts. Had the report been false, millionaire Carole Lewis Baskin would have sued Chris Hawes and Bay News 9 to clear her name. She did not. View the Bay News 9 expose'. Baskin was caught in her own lies. Was this gossip and slander as Baskin claims?

Finally, Baskin posted her "Evolution of Thought" which has under gone a few evolutions of it's own, as it is now called "History and Evolution". Although Baskin claims she has always been up front about the origins of her cats and the extent of her breeding, Baskin only posted her "confession" after the Bay News 9 expose'. With this new admission tucked deep inside her vast website, Baskin and her husband continued to lie to the public that in the early years "a few" cats were purchased and there was "limited" breeding. The majority of the cats were bought or bred there. Why the lies? Hear it from Howard Baskin's mouth in this fundraising magazine interview.

Read all 36 reports compiled on this blog to learn the extent of the prolific buying, selling, trading and breeding, especially Subjects #15, #17, and #2 under the month of June.

Shortly after the expose' was aired, Chris Hawes was offered what she described as a "dream job" by a TV station in Texas, due in part to her excellent investigative report on Carole Lewis Baskin and Big Cat Rescue. Baskin then attempted to make it look as if Hawes was dismissed due to her "false accusations".

Chris Hawes did a great job. However, Bay News 9 is only a local cable news show. These lies, the deceit, and the fraud, need to be exposed at a national level. Many small, legitimate sanctuaries are suffering while Carole Lewis Baskin continues to run her tour business disguised as a sanctuary (26,000 visitors in 2006), hog the spotlight with her lies about her beginnings and her "rescued" cats, and slander all those who would compete for donations. It's time the whole truth about Carole Lewis Baskin and Big Cat Rescue is known.

View the Bay News 9 video here and thank you Chris Hawes.

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