Chris Simms has two cats at home, but they're nothing like what he saw on Friday at Big Cat Rescue
On Friday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms and a dozen young friends found an exciting way to kick off the long Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Simms and a group of kids from The Children's Home toured Big Cat Rescue in Tampa for the first of three educational trips that will make up the signal-caller's new Wild Adventures program.
Why Big Cat Rescue? Simms developed the Wild Adventures program out of his love for nature, animals and the outdoors. He's no stranger to felines either, as an owner of two domestic tabby cats, Deuce and Rome. While those two relaxed back in the air conditioning of the Simms home, the quarterback and his excited co-adventurers gladly headed out into the heat to spend time with a wide variety of Deuce and Rome's less tame cousins.
There are about 150 cats at the rescue facility, many of whom are retired from the entertainment industry, such as the circus. Others started out as pets before their owners realized the animals were not suitable as domestic companions. Big Cat Rescue houses many breeds of cats, including lions, tigers, ocelots, leopards, Florida bobcats, lynxes and mountain lions. The kids in the Wild Adventures program were awed by them all, as was Simms.
"It's fun to come out here and see these beautiful animals," said Simms. "I love cats. I'm a big cat person. Cats are so pure to nature, they really interest me."
While at the facility, Simms and his group learned about each of the different breeds of cat, their eating and sleeping habits and ways the cats behave in the wild. Simms and the kids grew especially fond of Cheetaro, a leopard who loved to show off by climbing up a tree and stretching out on a limb. The children were wowed when a Big Cat staff member placed a piece of meat on a stick and held it up high through the cage for Bengali, a Bengal tiger. The facility's staffer was about six feet tall but Bengali, standing up on his back legs, towered over the man.
"I had a great time at the Big Cat Rescue, and I know the kids loved it as well," Simms said. "It was definitely a good learning experience for all of us."
On the next Wild Adventures voyage, Simms and the kids will experience the Fantasy Island Eco-Tour at the Florida Aquarium. The Wild Adventures program wraps up at the end of July, just before the start of the Buccaneers' training camp, with a behind-the-scenes tour of Busch Gardens and the animals that live there.
For more information on Big Cat Rescue, please visit their website at www.bigcatrescue.org.