In this day and age, zoos and animal/marine mammal facilities tend to get a bad rap, especially in light of recent incidents that have made headlines. People immediately protest and call for an end to animals in captivity without truly knowing all of the pertinent facts about the animals in question or the institutions that house them. Unfortunately, what many people fail to understand is that for the majority of zoos and similar facilities it is no longer just a matter of entertainment for the masses. What is much more significant are the behind the scenes programs that take place, including conservation, rehabilitation and education initiatives that are specifically designed to HELP the animal kingdom.
To that end, Wolfram (Wolf) and Christa Klose, along with their son Peter, run a humble haven for exotic animals on their 15-acre residence in Orono, Ontario, located approximately 45 minutes east of Toronto. With a focus primarily on big cats, the quaint park is aptly called Jungle Cat World. The facility began by happenstance considering that Wolf originally used his home acreage for Havelberg Dog Academy where he trained security dogs. While further exploring his unique relationship with animals, he bartered one of his dogs for a captive lion cub named Pasha. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The sanctuary started from there and slowly grew with a selection of big cats and other animals. Some of these arrived as a result of rescues, some were given by their owners after the Province of Ontario passed the Exotic Pets By-Law, and some were sent from established zoos because they had special needs or were vulnerable due to their lack of connection with other animals in their zoo enclosure. Regardless of the reason, it all came down to animals in need of a home, so the Klose family provided an exceptional and loving one while constantly expanding their facility.
By 1983 Jungle Cat World opened to the public. Initially, the park was a tourist attraction, as most zoos were back then. However, the focus has changed over the years, just as our world has changed and has caused us to take an increasingly more active role in saving the planet. As such, the emphasis is now on nurturing an animal’s individual needs as well as the needs of their species. Rehabilitation and conservation are of utmost importance so breeding programs are in place in order to boost dwindling populations, especially those of endangered animals. Unfortunately, that includes most of the big cats in the park. To bolster that point, shockingly only 50 Amur Leopards are left in the wild as a result of poaching, habitat loss, and climate change. However, thanks to breeding programs such as the one at Jungle Cat World where two leopards are well cared for, currently there are 200 of this species in captivity.
While almost everyone would agree that animals belong in the wild, the fact is that conservation efforts being made by zoos today, including captive breeding programs, are likely the only guarantee of survival for several species. However, there is a second component to this process that is every bit as necessary in making such efforts work, and that is ‘Education’. The Klose family understands this concept and is extremely proactive in using Jungle Cat World as a teaching facility.
For starters, sightseers can join the Daily Feeding Tour, where experienced guides provide whole chickens for the animals while imparting interesting facts and information about the 7 different species of cats and a hyena that are visited. Given the reaction and comments we overheard from both children and adults on this mini tour, there’s no doubt that this form of education works in building admiration for the animals. It was clear that everyone reacted with disappointment when they heard the unfortunate statistics of big cats remaining in the wild, and sounded hopeful when learning about the breeding program. There was noticeable adoration for the animals, as well as an undeniable understanding of the importance that many zoos and animal facilities now play in today’s world.
Interestingly, chicken parts for the big cats are donated by Sobey’s grocery chain, while whole chickens with broken necks, feathers and all, are generous contributions from local farmers. If you are the type of person that suffers from a queasy stomach, perhaps the feeding tour isn’t for you. However, there are still plenty of other ways to learn while at Jungle Cat World.
Visitors can also participate in the Behind the Scenes program for a fee over and above regular admission that most people will agree is well worth the price. The 45-minute curriculum allows guests to choose 3 animals from a list that rotates throughout the year based the age and needs of certain animals, as well as safety considerations for visitors. Currently, that lists includes a Striped Hyena, a Serval cat, Ring Tailed Lemur, Ruffed Lemur, a Red Tailed Hawk, Fennec Fox, Artic Wolf pups, and a Red Kangaroo, some of which are pictured below. Then the fun begins with one-by-one interactive experiences where guests can pet, cuddle, and take pictures with the animals while learning all about them and developing a newfound respect thanks to the informative handlers. This particular program creates a win-win situation for everyone involved, animals included. Not only do participants receive a unique and enlightening experience, the animals are better socialized in the process. This makes it easier for zoo personnel and vets to tend to them when needed and making the transition to other facilities seamless considering that Jungle Cat World does not retain all of its animals. Some make the conversion to established zoos rather than taking more animals out of the wild, some are sent to other breeding programs, while others are sent to specialized facilities. Such was the case recently with two Artic Wolf pups who were sent to a wolf sanctuary in the US.
The Wildlife Safari Outreach Program takes Jungle Cat World’s staff and select animals off the grounds and out to schools and organizations, as well as to events and occasionally television shows in order to showcase certain animals and provide the audience with information and conservation details.
And yet another educational initiative is Safari Zoo Camp, which operates every summer for campers between the ages of six and nineteen, with age groupings and correlated curriculums running at different times throughout the summer. Bunkhouse facilities and a dining hall are located just beyond the zoo gates. The program, which was named in 2011 as one of the Top Ten Greenest Summer Camps in North America, allows campers the kind of hands-on experience that builds knowledge and esteem for animals, birds, and reptiles. This includes everything from watering and feeding to cleaning cages and learning about conservation efforts. Off-premises activities include tree-top trekking and exploring nearby caves.
However, if you are not age-appropriate as a camper, Jungle Cat World offers an interesting option rarely found at animal facilities – Safari Lodge, a Bed & Breakfast set-up located directly outside the zoo gates. With suites decorated in African themes and plenty of Jungle Cat paintings (some of which were created by Wolf Klose himself), the unique accommodations give guests the option of touring the zoo during the day AND at night when nocturnal animals come out to play. Go to sleep with the roar of lions right outside your window and wake up to the humorous hooting of gorgeous peacocks that stroll the grounds. If you’re looking for a safari-like experience and can’t make it to the Savannah, this is the next best thing!
To further aid the sanctuary, Jungle Cat World is supported by the Endangered Species Fund of Canada. The facility is a member of WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and was accredited in 1989 by CAZA (Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums).
Clearly, the Klose family has undergone a vast learning experience over the years, wherein they have broadened Jungle Cat World to include much more than just a small zoo in a wild setting. And they have greatly benefitted from the inclusion of such an expert and friendly staff who made our day pleasant, informative, and utterly memorable.
We highly recommend a trip to Jungle Cat World. The park is open year round; however, throughout the summer you can find discount coupons within Attractions Ontario magazine, which can be picked up at many Ontario gas stations and grocery stores, or online at http://attractionsontario.ca
Review and Photos by Jett White