The Call of the Wild

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By Heide Brandes

Photography by Emily Brashier; Tiger Safari Zoo

Camping outside the city limits of Tuttle, visitors can lounge by an outdoor fire, stare up at a sea of stars and listen to the roars of tigers in the night.

The Tuttle Tiger Safari, an exotic zoological park, in Tuttle is home to seven tigers, three lions, a bobcat, a Siberian lynx, American cougars, a Grizzly bear and more. The animals, which come from people who bought exotic animals and can’t care for them or from places like the Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, are the stars of the park, owned by Melissa and Bill Meadows.

In addition to numerous animals, including reptiles and primates, the zoo also offers a place for children and adults to learn about conservation and come face to face with tiger and lion cubs.

“We have 180 animals, including reptiles,” said Meadows, who began collecting and caring for exotic animals more than 17 years ago as a hobby.

“My favorite was my first big cat, a cougar named Shirkon. But now, we have kids and families come out, and when they see the animals in real life, they become passionate about conservation.”

The Tiger Safari recently added two new additions to the exotic park with a white tiger cub and a lion cub. And for Meadows, the additional family members are only two new changes that will make the park even more exciting and family-friendly for visitors.

 

Hobby To Zoo

Meadows, a full-time Oklahoma City firefighter, has a passion for exotic big cats. Before opening the zoo, he used to bring Sampson, a tame male tiger that was born with no testosterone, out to the Tuttle Tigers high school games as a mascot.

He became known for accepting exotic animals others couldn’t care for, and his collection grew. He’s received animals from zoos that were closing, from other exotic animal parks, from people like Garth Brooks and others.

“Even back then, we were pretty selective in the animals we took in,” Meadows said. “This started strictly as a hobby, but the more I did it and the more the public was exposed to the animals, the more I enjoyed it.”

Meadows bought the current property in 2002 and began developing a fully-operational exotic animal park. He studied what other zoos did and designed the park to be as natural as possible. From outdoor grass enclosures for the big cats to buried power lines, the zoo is designed to give both the animals and visitors a natural experience that makes everyone forget they are in the heart of Oklahoma.

“All the cages have enrichment toys for the animals,” he said.

The animals themselves provide enrichment for families who visit and for the employees of the animal park.

Scott Shaffer, park manager, hailed from the Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species in Florida. He moved to Tuttle to help manage the park and to continue his lifelong love of caring for animals.

“When I was 5, my mother stopped coming into my room because I was always bringing home animals,” he said. “People who come here can learn and study about the animals, and they realize the importance of conservation.”

But the true mission of the park is to expose people to these majestic animals that they may have never seen otherwise. The zoo plays hosts not only to families, but to disabled children, nursing home residents, inner-city youth, corporate employees and more.

“I love working with the children and the elderly,” said Meadows. “We have had nursing home buses come and do a drive-through tour. We bring a baby tiger cub onto the bus and put it on these residents’ laps, and they bawl their eyes out. We also do tours for kids who are mentally and physically disabled, and it’s incredible to watch them light up.”

 

A Wild Experience For All

The Tuttle Tiger Safari has numerous family and group events throughout the year, from Safari Family Night to weddings and private events. The park also offers overnight experiences with African-style safari huts for rent, primitive camping, a safari treehouse, cabins and, soon, a handicapped accessible overnight facility.

The park also has a new 3,400-square-foot reptile facility, which houses pythons, lizards, American alligators and more. A 35-foot round party facility is also being constructed. The park boasts a 2,300 square-foot welcome/convention center, and a waterfall was built in the center of the park. Soon, the Tiger’s Den bed-and-breakfast will open. Visitors can stay in the second- and third-floor guest rooms, and a gift shop and education center will be located on the first floor.

“Everything has a natural feel and look to it,” Meadows said. “It creates a relaxed experience for guests.”

The park is also a popular site for corporate events, birthday parties, weddings and more. In addition, the Tuttle Tiger Safari also brings small and baby animals to church, school and civic events for programs that are both entertaining and educational. A Lemur Island is also under construction.

“This is a way of life for us,” said Meadows. “We are passionate about conservation and our animals. I want people who visit to feel like they’re in Africa, just being in Tuttle. They can stay the night here, sit on the porch and relax and listen to the lions roar at night.”

For more information about the Tuttle Tiger Safari or to book events, visit

tigersafari.us.

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