Fall Guide: Big cats 

Oklahomans can see tigers and other wild animals up close at Tiger Safari Zoological Park in Tuttle.

Tiger Safari Zoological Park is open  9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, but guests can also book overnight stays. - PROVIDED
  • provided
  • Tiger Safari Zoological Park is open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, but guests can also book overnight stays.

The Meadows family photo albums have some standout photos. Bill Meadows, director of Tiger Safari Zoological Park, 963 County St. 2930, in Tuttle said one of the zoological park’s former residents was tame enough for his children to sleep with.

“When it got bigger, my kids rode it like a horse, and I’ve got the pictures to prove it,” Meadows said. “I’ve got five grandkids now, and my grandkids are seeing pictures with their mom sitting on a tiger, riding the tiger and their grandma riding the tiger.”

However, the big cat, also the mascot for Tuttle High School’s football team for 13 years, was an exceptional case.

“That’s not every tiger,” Meadows said. “We just lucked out. We had a gift by getting a tiger that was that good. I haven’t had a tiger since then that’s been that tame to where I’d even consider introducing it to the public when it’s full-grown.”

Meadows said he started caring for big cats “as a hobby almost 30 years ago.”

“I helped an FBI agent train some animals and took an interest in that for a while before I decided to get my own animals,” Meadows, who also works as a lead driver for Oklahoma City Fire Department, said. “It was over a period of a couple of years that I helped someone else with their exotics before I got involved in it. So it wasn’t like I just went out and got a cougar.”

click to enlarge Visitors can take pictures with live animals as part of Wizarding - World of Tiger Safari Tuesday-Oct. 31. - PROVIDED
  • provided
  • Visitors can take pictures with live animals as part of Wizarding World of Tiger Safari Tuesday-Oct. 31.

Meadows said he was originally drawn to the big cat because he felt a personal connection to it.

“I don’t think most people realize that the people that love and train exotic animals can form a very special bond with them,” Meadows said. “If you put the time and training and put love into them instead of trying to force them to do something they don’t want to do, you’re going to get that same love back.”

In the years since it opened, Tiger Safari has expanded to include lions, kangaroos, primates and many other animals as well as an education center, a banquet hall, a treehouse overlooking the park from 30 feet in the air, a fire pit and “African safari huts” for overnight guests. A new reptile facility features climate-controlled habitats for anacondas, pythons, alligators and crocodiles. While laws prohibit park guests from riding the tigers, they can observe the big cats from the safety of a 70-foot observation deck.

"The people that love and train
exotic animals can form a very special
bond with them."—Bill Meadows

Visitors hoping to spice up their own family photo albums or Instagram feeds can take advantage of Wizarding World of Tiger Safari, open Tuesday-Oct. 31. In addition to a hayride and pumpkin patch, the attraction gives visitors the opportunity to take pictures with live animals in front of a green screen.

“They can wear the Harry Potter costumes, and they can either hold the live eagle owl, live snakes, frogs, stuff like that,” Meadows said. “And then we green-screen that photo and we put that in either the Harry Potter castle or on the broomstick where the kids are flying or in the auditorium, so it’s really cool.”

General admission to the park is $15. Call 405-414-9365 or visit tigersafari.us.

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