Southern Oklahoma’s G.W. Exotic Animal Park says it has eight members of a lion subspecies that’s extinct in the wild. They’re called Barbary lions, and they once were native to North Africa. Only 100 are thought to live in zoos around the world.
I went to the town of Wynnewood this week to see the lions. A new cub named Oliver was born there earlier this month. Here’s a slice of the experience: (also check out a story tomorrow in The Oklahoma)
A trip to the G.W. park feels more like a visit an outdoor kennel than a stroll in a zoo. Tigers roam tight cages and perch on cinder-block houses, their backs sometimes almost touching cage ceilings.
Some animals have muddy puddles to play in. Others, like lions and tiger cubs, have spare toys to toss around — a basketball, stuffed animal or a tattered Puma shoe.
So many animals surround visitors that it can feel like they’re being hunted.
On a tour, a park worker insisted the animals are content. But approach a lion, and chances are it will become irritated enough to spin around, lift its tail, and spray at you — a warning to get off its territory.
That wouldn’t seem like a problem, perhaps, until you know that visitors are within an arm’s length of the cages.
Beth Corley, the park worker, approached the cage with a rare lion cub’s parents in it. The two lion parents — Inkendayo and Ada — were cuddled up in the corner.
“You can see the long, thin nose, which is characteristic of the Barbary,” she said. “And the laziness is just the lion.”
After some coaxing, the lions hopped to their feet. Ikendayo’s long, chocolate mane trailed down to his mid-back.
Soon, Corley was paw-to-paw with a lion, then petting its nose.
“So far, we haven’t had any answers that we can come up with,” she said. But “they certainly look like it.”
John David Sutter