A trip to Jungle Cat World
Jungle Cat World is a small, independently owned zoo on the outskirts of the GTA. The operation began thirty years ago as a hobby, when co-founders Wolfram and Christa Klose adopted a baby lion cub. Since then, Jungle Cat World has evolved into a fully accredited and "renowned zoological park, known for its captive breeding program and environmental education programs, like Safari Zoo Camp."
Located north-east of Oshawa, my trip to Jungle Cat World began with the acquisition of an automobile. Theoretically, this place is reachable through GO Transit, but it looked like one giant headache, and the possibility of being stranded in a place where the streets have no name didn't have the romantic undertones one might expect.
But with the help of Autoshare, I was mobile. It's rare I get the chance to get this far outside the city, the drive east was kind of an exciting proposition. Unfortunately, the eastern corridor of the 401 isn't much for sight seeing, but traffic was light and the drive only took a little over an hour.
Jungle Cat World doesn't look like much from the road, just a network of chain linked fences spread across a pretty vast property. It actually looks, well, kind of dumpy. But that impression changes pretty quickly once inside the gates. This place may have started out as a hobby, but today is a pretty impressive organization. And although a wolf escaped from the premises last March, the operation is anything by amateur.
My guide today is Sarah Law, a zookeeper and wildlife rehabilitator at the park.
One of the wonderful things about Jungle Cat World, as opposed to say the Toronto Zoo, is that because of its small size, you're able to get much closer to the animals and, when appropriate, the animals are able to get closer to one another. There are alpacas roaming the grounds along with an incredibly tolerant donkey — Daisy.
My first thought when meeting Daisy was how closely her disposition mirrors Eeyore's. Not that she seemed depressed, being out in the general population at the zoo certainly comes with a whole lot of love and affection from staff and guests alike, but donkeys just seem to have a naturally lethargic temperament. Despite my poking, prodding and petting, I couldn't get her to acknowledge me.
Of course, when attending Jungle Cat World, donkeys are hardy the draw. At the park, they have a wide collection of large and small cats, many of which were born and raised on the premises. The first new addition I met was a baby cougar, just a few months old. When they're this young, their behaviour is motivated almost exclusively by play (rather than food), which makes for some pretty adorable interactions.
Another thing that Jungle Cat World does, besides its zoological activities, is outreach programs. That means that for a fee ($300-$600), a school, community organization or even a private citizen can hold their own event featuring an assortment of animals like baby cougars or, his pen mate, a baby tiger.
It's easy to forget she will grow up to be roughly 600lbs.
After spending time with the cats, we head to the Hyena pen. I didn't know what to expect from these creatures. In the movies they're always sinister little scavengers, vicious and selfish. Of course, I realize these are all projected human emotions, but some animals are more skittish than others, and I'd never met a hyena in real life before.
These ones have only been on the premises a few days, having just arrived from a zoo in Italy. But apparently the flight was easy on them because after a few minutes, they were approaching us with caution, sniffing at my outreached hand.
Still, the hyena's were unsure, as they should be I suppose. New surroundings and lots of new people, I'd be shy as well. After time she would lick my hand, but still wouldn't let me pet her — she wanted to keep me in sight.
I had a completely different experience in the lemur pen. I've never met an animal as friendly. The very moment we entered they were on top of us, climbing and jumping and hanging--no fear, no hesitation. Although it might have had something to do with the container of blueberries we had, these animals seem like the perfect house pet. I'm told such is not the case, and they're far from domesticated, a boy can dream though.
One last unique feature here is the bed and breakfast. For as little as $150 per night, guests can stay in an enormous suite and roam the grounds at their leisure. The prospect of experiencing Jungle Cat World at night is both exciting and terrifying, I'm told it's even more active when the sun goes down and with over 98 different species on the premises, there's plenty to see — definitely worth the drive.
Jungle Cat World is located at 3667 Concession Road 6 in Orono near where Taunton Road hits highway 115. (905) 983-5016. Adult admission is $15.
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