TAMPA, Fla. – The owner of a Florida wildlife rescue center is living in a cage with two lions, a fundraising stunt that has riled other animal rescue groups and underscores how difficult it is to keep such sanctuaries afloat.

James Jablon with Wildlife Rehabilitation of Hernando County, a semi-rural area about an hour north of Tampa, is halfway through his month of eating, sleeping and otherwise hanging out with the carnivorous cats. Wearing a microphone, he talks with people who watch streaming video of his “captivity” online and post comments.

He maintains his unusual idea is a harmless way to raise $150,000 to keep the center — home to 100 animals of all types — running for the next two years. It is unclear how much money he has raised so far.

Those in the animal sanctuary world say it’s extremely expensive to raise and care for exotic animals, especially when a single tiger can eat upward of 60 pounds of meat a week.

“It’s been incredibly difficult for sanctuaries,” said Josephine Martell, a spokeswoman for the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, a Washington-based accreditation group. “It’s just like every other business; sanctuaries are cutting back on staff and capacity.”

Actress Tippi Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and runs the Shambala Preserve in Acton, Calif., said it costs her more than $75,000 a month to feed her 65 big cats.

“Sanctuaries everywhere are folding because of the economy,” she said.

Last September, the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio closed its doors due to “overpopulation, underfunding and inadequate housing for the animals,” a message on the defunct sanctuary’s website said.

About 400 animals were displaced because of the closing, and Martell said it was difficult to find homes for them because other sanctuaries are so cash-strapped.

Even in the face of such shortfalls, Hedren and others questioned the wisdom of Jablon’s stepping into the lions’ den.

Jablon is “taking his life into his hands,” Hedren said.

The stunt is not just dangerous but exploitative, said Pat Derby, owner of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, adding that it sends the wrong message to the public.

“We’re supposed to be protecting the animals, not exploiting them,” said Derby, a former Hollywood animal trainer who has three sanctuaries in California.

Jablon told the St. Petersburg Times he will be safe inside the enclosure where he is staying with young lions Ed and Lea for a month, because he has raised the animals since they were small and they are familiar with him.

“I’m not risking my life. I’m enhancing their life,” he told the newspaper.