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Instead of Going to a Roadside Zoo, Go to the FL Rehabber Who Rescues Their Rejects

Tiger brothers rescued by Wildlife Rehab or Hernando

If you’re looking for an animal attraction in central Florida that doesn’t make you feel icky about how they treat the animals, check out Wildlife Rehab of Hernando. Jimmy Jablon started out taking in local native wildlife–raccoons, alligators, fox–but demand for exotic animals turned out of homes and those creepy roadside attractions.

When you go to the shelter, less than an hour north of Tampa, you’ll get much closer to animals than you would in a zoo and your donation for a tour ($17.50 for adults, $8.50 for kids) will go to help maintain these animals and save others. “We let all the people that come here get close to the animals,” he says. “You stand a foot from the tigers and the monkeys are on a fence next to you.”

Right now Jablon could use the donations, after spending $8,000 for tests and surgery for a 160 pound lion cub that’s now recuperating in his house to ward off infection. Jablon has seen so many of what he calls “photo cubs”–big cats misused to pose for cute pictures when they’re young–that he recognized the syndrome. The cat had been underfed and improperly fed and her skull wasn’t growing to keep up with her brain. Jablon drained more of his savings from working in the insurance business to pay the vet bills, which he had been hoping to get a break on for rescuing the animal.

Recently he did get a big break thanks to Waste Management and Wal-Mart. Rather than take the retailer’s unsold meat to the landfill, Waste Management makes it available to Jablon, who otherwise would have to buy 1,000 pounds of meat a week to keep his carnivores fed. “There’s nothing wrong with the meat. Sometimes it’s still frozen,” he says. Regulations just require removing it after so many days. He’s got no such help with produce: he spends about $23,000 a year on fruits and vegetables.

All of his enclosures are about twice the size they need to be, but he wants to give the animals a decent life. He only takes in creatures that he has–or can make–room for. “If I don’t I’m just putting them in the same position,” he says. He just built a facility for two cats rescued from Vanishing Wildlife, which rented animals out for parties, until the state shut them down.
Native animals only stay if they can’t make it in the wild and seem content there. “Don’t take an animal that’s always been wild and try to keep them behind bars,” he warns. He’d rather euthanize the animal than keep it in misery. “If we’ve got an animal can’t be released and it’s spending 12 hours a day pacing in his cage, he’s just being tormented.” 
He keeps an albino raccoon named Stuart Little that wouldn’t make it in the wild because predators and other raccoons would pick him out immediately. Stuart has the company of four raccoons with vision, neurological or motor problems. Jablon doesn’t ever keep a solitary animal of a social species. He even bought a lemur to keep two rescues company. And he’s hoping someone needs a home for a wallaby soon.
The need for an exotic sanctuary just snuck up on him. “Like everybody else, I thought there was somebody else taking care of it,” he says. “There’s a much bigger need than people are aware of.”
He also knows that long-term he can do the most good with education. As a father of a 13-year-old girl who plays a big part in the shelter, he’s especially interested in teaching kids about the right way to treat animals. “We try to grab the kids the most,” he says. “They put a name or a face to an animals and later they’ll say ‘Oh, look out, that’s a gopher tortoise, don’t hit it!'”

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