CENTER POINT, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Tourists travel from around the world to a deeply wooded area in the Wabash Valley where the Exotic Feline Rescue Center is located. There, people will find intriguing sights, sounds and experiences while visiting with 150 rescued big cats.

The cats are exotic, dangerous and as close to their natural habitat as it gets. The cats were all rescued or surrendered from various living circumstances, many in which people kept them as pets.

Exotic Feline Rescue Center owner, Joe Taft, talks about tigers at facility, some come from ‘Joe Exotic’ and others in ‘Tiger’King’ Netflix series

“We make a commitment to provide them a home for the rest of their lives,” founder and owner of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, Joe Taft, said.

Taft founded the Clay County center in 1991, back then he just had two tigers and a leopard.

Taft talks about early days at the Extoci Feline Rescue Center

“I went to a realtor in Terre Haute and said, ‘I’m looking for a place with no neighbors.’ We looked for a long time and finally settled on a place here in Center Point.”

Starting with just 15 acres of land, 30 years later, the center now sits on 250 acres and has gained quite a fan following.

“Most people fall fantastically in love.”

Joe Taft

Just three feet away from 10 different species of exotic cats, it’s an experience unlike anything else.

“It gives you more of a sense of their power and their strength when you’re this close to them.” head keeper, Rebecca Stevenson, said. “It’s more like the zoo comes to the cats. They like to look at everybody that comes out, just like you like to look at every cat when you come out.”

The Exotic Feline Rescue Center, like many places, closed down at the start of the pandemic. Stevenson said it’s had an impact on the cats.

EFRC staff talk about impact of pandemic on their budget, reopening plans

“You can tell they’re missing (visitors),” she said. “They get sick of seeing the same faces every day. We sit here and come up with as many virtual fundraiser events as we possibly can, but we’re also busy out here taking care of them, so it’s been pretty tough.”

Another part of Stevenson’s role is giving visitor tours. She educates people on the reality of the lives of tigers in captivity. That it’s often not a pretty tale, like paying a fee to pet a tiger cub.

“It’s a terrible situation for them. They’re only used for a short period of time and then from there who knows what happens to them. Sometimes they’re put down, sometimes they’re given to terrible homes, all different situations,” Stevenson said.

Taft said they’ve rescued cats from all over, and as many as 15 cats at a time. He said the number of intakes usually doesn’t have an impact on facility capacity. At one time, there were 260 cats housed here.

A popular Netflix series helped shed some light on the reality of tigers in captivity. In fact, several tigers from the show “Tiger King” are now living at the facility in Center Point.

Many people choose to house big cats as pets, but Stevenson said she uses her role to warn people.

“The difference with these guys and a pet is that you don’t go in there and try to read their personality because they can change and they can change very quickly,” she said. “So if you go in there, it could be your last day. So we have a relationship with them through the fence and keep them as happy as can be and we go from there.”

When asked, what she loves about her work, she said she likes it all.

“Everything about my job,” she said. “These cats are amazing. I have a relationship with every cat here, whether it’s a good one or a bad one, it’s still a relationship and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”

Due to the pandemic, tours at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center are by reservation only. You can make a reservation on the website by clicking this link.