The narrow, leaf littered gravel road wound slowly through the woods, glints of sunlight filtering through the branches, the smell of autumn in the air. As we approached the gate, there was an ominous low, rumbling growl. Every hair on the back of my neck raised and had I had a tail I would have tucked it between my legs...
Our homeschool group visited the Exotic Feline Rescue Center today. Now mind you, I was raised around animals. In fact, some might think the homestead resembled Noah's Ark. We had a horse, goats, pigs, turkeys, geese, ducks, exotic chickens, peacocks, a raccoon, a ferret, lots of cats and dogs, etc. But all of that ain't nothin' compared to what we saw today. The center has approximately 190 big cats from 9 different species set on 108 acres.
This is not even remotely like going to the zoo. This is the real deal. The staff asks you to stay at least 3 feet from the habitat fence, and you are more than happy to oblige once you get a look at one. If you've never been within three feet of a very hungry looking lion, you have no idea what I mean. At one point during the tour we entered an enclosed area and were soon surrounded by four huge habitats. I, being the geek that I am, instantly noted that there was only about four feet between them for us to stand. How on earth do we stay three feet from each cage? The math doesn't add up! So I did my best to pretend I was cool with it like everyone else and split the difference. Soon the cats settled down and I decided to brave my position and snap a few pictures. She seemed so nice and content...
Nice Kitty Before:
As I turned to take a few pics of her buddies, she leaped up, ran towards me and pounced on the side of the cage obviously in an effort to eat me, all in less than two seconds flat!
Not-so-nice Kitty After:
I know there was no way they were getting out of that cage, but just in case I decided from that point on I would remain in the center of our "herd". It's the stragglers and the young they go after. I've seen enough Wild Kingdom to know that! So after a while on our tour when I noticed a tiger literally stalking one of the young kids, I sacrificed myself and made him walk ahead of me. The staff explained how they feed the cats about 3000 lbs of meat each day. I figured the average kid weighed about 75 lbs. That's 40 kids. This one would just be an appetizer.
Not all of them were scary. In fact some of them were downright playful and cute. Like this guy. He's just a young teenager and you can see by his expression he really was just begging for someone to play with him. Unfortunately even playing with one of these cats can get you killed.
None the less, once the tour was over and we were back to the front entrance, I was more than delighted to see an animal a little more my speed.
But, I was afraid to even ask why part of it's ear was missing.