3.07.2010

jungle cat world

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Earlier this week, we visited Jungle Cat World, about an hour east of Toronto, with our friend J. Last summer, J and I discovered we shared a love of wild canines, and when I told her there was a wolf centre in driving distance from Toronto - long on my to-do list - we immediately started making plans.

In July, J and her partner C (who are both war resisters) and Allan and I had a great day at the Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre, and we all vowed to return in the winter, when the wolves' coats are thick and the animals are much more active. Since then, I had been planning on doing this - we started to make plans - then learned the Wolf Centre is only open on weekends in the winter. I was sooo disappointed. There's no way I can take a day off work for that.

Somewhat as a consolation prize, J suggested we go to Jungle Cat World. J is a regular visitor there - the staff knows her by name, and she knows all the animals' names, their histories, and their personalities. It was pretty amazing to see two wolves trot over to the fence and greet J with obvious signs of canine happiness! J has known the male wolf since he's a cub - she has cuddled with him and rubbed his belly more than once. But now that he's in a breeding pair, no play allowed.

First we walked through the park and saw all the animals, then we did another walk-through to watch the daily feeding. The keeper, dragging a sled full of raw meat behind her, told us about the different animals, both the individuals we were seeing and their species, which are all at high risk for extinction. She is clearly very attached to all the animals and committed to their welfare.

When we were walking around by ourselves, before the feeding, we spent a long time admiring the magnificent arctic wolf. She's alone right now, as the park works on finding her a partner (apparently it takes a very long time to transfer an animal from one facility to another).

Suddenly, Bianca, the white wolf, threw her head back and started to howl. The other wolves in separate enclosures all picked it up and began to howl, too. The three of us looked at each other in amazement, and just stood there drinking it in for as long as it lasted. The sound was so beautiful; it gave me chills. When they finished and I could breathe again, J said, You guys have seen something special. That doesn't usually happen.

After the animals ate, we had our "meet-and-greet", which J arranged in advance. You can interact with your choice of three animals. (That is, three of those that are available for human interaction. I don't think they let you in the enclosure with full-grown lions.) We chose the tiger cubs (which counts as one), the fox and the bobcat.

The tiger cubs are about 5 months old and weigh around 60 pounds. J played with these same cubs when they were only six weeks old, and the size of housecats! We saw a pair of tigers that are about one year old, and look pretty big... until you see the full-grown pair, which clock in at about 600 pounds each. The female is pregnant again, and J and I are going back as soon as the babies are old enough to handle.


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Even though I had a great day, I still have mixed feelings about seeing wild animals in captivity. These animals are very well cared for, they have interaction with other animals, and with humans. Most of them were hand-raised, and they clearly enjoy the stimulation of human interaction. Some were rescued from neglect or abuse; our fox friend was rescued from a fur farm. The rest were all born in captivity in zoo breeding programs. All their species are heavily endangered. Jungle Cat World does outreach and education about endangered species, especially big cats. All good.

But still, there's something painful about seeing a captive wolf. This is the main reason I haven't yet been to the Toronto Zoo. I used to love zoos, and I hear the Toronto's is a wonderful place, but... I don't know. It makes me a little sad.

On balance, I think it's a great place and I'm definitely going back to play with baby tigers.

Not least of why this was such a great day: I took a day off. A real day off, not a "day off" getting my hair cut or going to the dentist. It was heavenly - and my last one until my term ends on April 6.

A selection of our photos is here. We only had our crappy digital camera, so they're not great, but you'll get the idea.

A few of J's photos are here.

24 comments:

L-girl said...

James, you would really enjoy this place - your experience photographing animals interacting would be great here.

redsock said...

I had the same mixed feelings. Seems like with the land they have, the enclosures could be bigger.

Stephanie said...

What a marvelous expedition!

I understand your misgivings about animals in captivity. I take solace in the fact of their rescue...

impudent strumpet said...

You petted a tiger! You petted a tiger!! Oh my god holy shit you petted a tiger!!!

L-girl said...

Ha, yes, it's pretty amazing. I felt that way when I heard that J petted and played with a wolf.

L-girl said...

Seems like with the land they have, the enclosures could be bigger.

Yes. That is puzzling. Although it's good the enclosures have stuff to climb on, dens and other features - they're not just empty lots.

I take solace in the fact of their rescue...

Right, me too. Most have friends or mates in the enclosure with them. The solo animals are either temporarily alone while JCW looks for a mate, or they're not socialized enough yet for a partner. That helps, too.

But yes. It's troubling.

MSEH said...

Very cool! Thanks for posting the photos!

skdadl said...

Oh, please take me next time!

I understand the mixed feelings, except sometimes saving them is the best we can do. We need to be mindful that they are still at least semi-wild, and the thrill that contact gives us can be misleading. And yet it is such a thrill to make a real connection with a wild animal.

I'm glad you had such a wonderful day.

L-girl said...

I understand the mixed feelings, except sometimes saving them is the best we can do. We need to be mindful that they are still at least semi-wild, and the thrill that contact gives us can be misleading. And yet it is such a thrill to make a real connection with a wild animal.

Well said. I agree.

The people from JCW vehemently oppose keeping these animals as pets (or trying to) and bizarre cross-breeding attempts. They don't train the animals to do tricks - and with most of them, they don't enter the cage to feed them. They definitely respect the animals' essential wild nature.

L-girl said...

And sure, come along! :)

M@ said...

I understand and share your discomfort with animals in captivity, but... wow. That fox is absolutely beautiful. This place is on our to-do list as of now.

L-girl said...

Oh man, that fox is amazing! His name is Hunter, btw.

This was the first time I'd ever seen a fox in full winter coat, in person (so to speak). I've seen a couple of foxes in the wild, but only in summer, when they look kind of scraggly. But this winter coat is just magnificent. The tail! Wow. The tail.

The bobcat was incredibly soft - meltingly soft. It would be so much better for these creatures if their fur was coarse and ugly.

I'm so glad people this post has interested people in going to JCW. The more, the better.

deang said...

When my nieces come to visit, they like to go to the Austin Nature and Science Center to see the rescued animals, but you can't touch the ones there. There are bobcats and coyotes and gray foxes and red foxes and coatis and opossums and striped skunks and raccoons and a lot of birds of prey that have been either shot or hit by cars or injured on power lines. Last time, a barred owl got right up in our faces and just kept opening and closing her mouth like she was trying to talk. My youngest niece would do it back and they locked gazes and didn't move for a long time while they mouthed unspoken feelings at each other. That was amazing, but it was sad to see them in their enclosures, even though these animals could not survive in the wild anymore.

L-girl said...

Wow! What an experience, being face to face, communicating with a bird of prey like that. The Center sounds really cool.

The human interaction in Jungle Cat World makes me feel somewhat better about the captivity issue. I know it could be seen as exploitive, but when you're there it seems very positive. J described it as "enriching".

Amy said...

The tigers are so beautiful. No allergic reaction to the big cats, Laura?

I also find going to a zoo very hard. I love getting to see animals that I otherwise would never see, but hate watching them pace in cages or confined to a space that, although larger than a cave, is still confining. When I was a little girl, my father and I went to the Bronx Zoo every Sunday, and I loved it. It is still an amazing zoo, but overall I find zoos sad, but sometimes necessary.

L-girl said...

No allergic reaction to the big cats, Laura?

Wow, good thinking, Amy! I hadn't even thought of it myself, but J very thoughtfully brought along some allergy meds in case I reacted.

She said an allergy to domestic cats makes one more likely to be allergic to big cats, but not that one will be. Her partner is deathly allergic to domestic cats and had no reaction at Jungle Cat World.

I had a little reaction standing in front of the enclosures with the full-grown tigers, but none at all from touching the baby tigers.

Re zoos, I remember when I was a kid, the zoos still kept animals alone in small cages. I can remember seeing a panther pacing obsessively. It made me very sad.

The modern zoos where there are open habitats and more than one animal in an enclosure are much more humane. (Although still somewhat disturbing, as everyone here is noting.)

Scott M. said...

I lived near Jungle Cat World for a dozen years while I was growing up and passed it daily. My parents still live there.

And I have never visited.

I have, however, seen their outreach van come to our major Scouting events between the US and Canada where thousands of Scouts from both sides of the border are amazed at the animals, their nature, and their affect on them. JCW does a great program.

L-girl said...

And I'm sure if you lived in NYC, you'd never visit the Empire State Building. :)

(Not that you would ever live in NYC!)

Cool re scouts. Animals have such an effect on people - often much more than other people do.

L-girl said...

The last of the world's big cats

Nigel Patel said...

Wonderful pictures. Especially the first one, fox meets bobcat.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Nige!

Those two (fox and bobcat) are friends, they live in the same enclosure. Fox likes to be held securely. Bobcat likes to be petted. :)

Tom said...

Super cool and Emlio would love this place

James said...

James, you would really enjoy this place - your experience photographing animals interacting would be great here.

Sorry I didn't reply earlier -- it's been busy here. We've been out to JCW, but I did not get any good shots of the cats or wolves without the chain link, so I've never posted them.

I did get these two shots: Deer and Peacock.

Now, if we'd gotten in close with the animals like you did, well, that would have been amazing!

We also have the super-long lens now... I wonder if that would work better...

Cornelia said...

So cute, wow!!! Thanks for sharing and those awesome cuddly pictures!