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Monday, September 2, 2013

Free Write: The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoo

While visiting my family in Texas from July 20th-24th, I had the opportunity to visit the world’s largest animal rescue park, The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoo. My Aunt Jane, a frequent visitor of the park, generously drove us three hours from her home to Wynnewood, Oklahoma, where the park is located. She is always eager to introduce her friends and family to the park for the first time.

As we entered the park, I saw a sign that informed visitors that the cost to run the park and care for the animals for one month was $60,000, and that the park was entirely reliant on visitor donations and entry fees. As we traveled through the zoo, I saw countless signs hanging on animal’s enclosures asking passerby to sponsor them (starting at $25.00 a month).

The animals were amazing, that was no doubt. There were bears, coatimundis, cougars, lions, tigers, chimps, baboons, capuchins, leopards, crocodiles, hyenas, ducks, geese, cockatiels, raccoons, a kangaroo, and more. We were allowed to buy peanuts and cereal mixes in the gift shop to feed the animals with. However, the first thing that struck me was that some of the enclosures seemed a little small, particularly for the larger animals. I reminded myself that many of these animals came from dangerous conditions that were far worse. During a tour, a zoo keeper informed me that all of the animals were played with and exercised daily outside of their enclosures in a larger space. That made me feel better, especially after seeing how devoted and doting the caretakers were.

A chimp asking for peanuts.

Adorable raccoons eager to eat some peanuts!

My mom petting the zoo's camel.

All of the zoo’s staff are volunteers, and when we pulled into the parking lot, we saw a few rows of mobile homes- volunteers are given room and board in return for their work, and essentially devote their lives to the animals. Their passion for what they do was humbling and inspiring to watch in action.
When visiting this zoo, you are given the option to partake in a tour, which is included in the cost of your entry fee. The tour takes you behind the normal viewing areas to a whole second section, which includes the zoo’s only camel, wolves, and several tigers with very rare genetics. Among these, we saw the “faded” tigers, which look as though they’ve emerged from a sepia photo:

Also, there are two “ghost tigers,” which are white tigers with white stripes (actually a very light gray). There are only eighteen of them in the world, meaning that this zoo has 1/9 of the ghost tiger population. Ghost tigers only occur in captivity under a controlled, selective breeding process.
This female "ghost tiger" is pregnant.

Back out in the normal visiting area, the zoo features a “tiliger,” which is the cross between a liger (tiger and lion) and a tiger. This incredible feline giant is the closest thing that can be bred to a saber-tooth tiger today. There are only eight of them in the world. In this picture, you can see how large he is compared to a full grown tiger female:

While on your special tour of the back of the zoo, you’ll get an experience that may come only once in a lifetime: you can play with and hold either tiger, lion, or bear cubs, or a combination of the three. When we visited, there were no lion cubs in the zoo and all of the bear cubs were too old. So that left us with two adorable tiger cubs. They cried for attention, had paws too big for the rest of them, were soft as clouds, and loved to play and snuggle.

My mom rubbing behind the cub's ears.

I received a tiger kiss!

Both of the cubs crowd into my lap.

My cousin Lakota with a tiger cub.

At one point, they both approached me and climbed into my lap at the same time. They effectively melted me into a puddle of gooey adoration, along with everyone else on the tour.

Zoos often receive a lot of criticism from some more extreme environmental and animal rights groups for keeping captive animals for show and profit. However, zoos, especially rescues like GW, play an important role in animal conservation, and are often non-profit, relying on donations and volunteers. Rescues work hard to save and rehabilitate animals from dangerous and unsuitable conditions. Many zoos take part in conservation programs that include breeding, training, and releasing captive endangered animals back into the wild to boost their species’ dwindling populations. For an amazing first-hand account of this experience, please read Thirteen Gold Monkeys by Benjamin Beck. In this book, Beck re-accounts his experience with releasing two captive-born golden lion tamarin families into Brazil’s wild rainforests. You can find my review of this book here. Lastly, is there any better way to inspire a child to love animals than to bring them up-close, or perhaps bring them in contact, like we did with the baby tigers? Zoos work hard to educate and inspire the younger generations, so that perhaps one day they will be devoted wildlife and environmental stewards.

Want to help out the GW Interactive Zoo? You can donate money directly on their website here, or you can send items on the zoo’s wish list.

Even if you can’t make it all the way to Oklahoma, I encourage you to check out and support your local zoos. Visiting a zoo can be a wonderful, inspiring experience for a child.  

Update October 7th, 2013

Today I happened across a news story about how one of the zoo worker's had her arm mauled by a tiger. This article mentioned past and present allegations of the GW Interactive Zoo mistreating its animals, and there are organizations currently seeking to change zoo policy/ shut the zoo down because of this.

I am not removing this post from my blog because the message still remains the same: zoos and interactions with animals have the potential to foster a love/passion for animals and nature, especially in children. Holding a tiger cub at GW Interactive Zoo still remains to be one of the most incredible moments of my life, and I will always hold that experience close to my heart. However, I wanted to acknowledge these allegations, and ultimately I will leave it up to you, the reader, to decide how you feel about the zoo. Please, keep in mind that GW's actions as a zoo do not represent all zoos. 

Here are the articles:

Tiger attack: 
Abuse history:  

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