Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Well, OK, maybe not bears. But there’ll be exotic animals at the year’s Kitsap County Fair, for sure.
A Walk on the Wild Side, an animal preserve and sanctuary near Canby, Oregon, will exhibit more than a dozen reptiles and animals as a part of a traveling educational show. Executive Director Steve Higgs said to expect eight reptiles and six other animals, including a Siberian tiger.
“They asked specifically for us to bring a tiger, so we are,” said Higgs. “And we plan on bringing a binturong bear, which is often called a bearcat.”
The rural preserve has 184 different species and is home to 175 animals. It was started about 25 years ago and is one of few places that accepts large animals and reptiles.
“We started rescuing farm animals when the shelters around here weren’t able to take them,” Higgs said. “And then we were asked to take a cougar baby, and it just took off from there.”
Higgs said the sanctuary’s work is especially impactful for exotic animals since state animal control agencies “often automatically euthanize animals they don’t have the facilities or knowledge to accommodate them.”
A Walk on the Wild Side is licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and holds special permits from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife which allows them to take in illegally held species from the public.
Higgs said that many times, someone will acquire an exotic animal but then finds out it is illegal to have that animal in a residential backyard.
“We get calls like that,” he said. “Our mission is to provide a permanent, safe and comfortable environment for all displaced exotic species.”
And, because they want people to know about the animals, they take them on the road to about 20 fairs each year. They also host an open house in the fall at the sanctuary.
Among the animals currently at the sanctuary are a black leopard, a Barbary lion, a tiger and a Grizzly bear.
The Barbary lion is one of the most interesting.
“There are only about 1,500 of them left in the world,” he said. “These lions are about 200 pounds heavier that the range lion. They are stocky and have a huge mane that goes down their neck and chest.”
Wide Side has five of them.
Another of their residents is an African Crest Porcupine.
“There are probably only a couple hundred of them left,” Higgs said.
The binturong bear also is limited in numbers that have survived throughout the world. They are commonly called a bearcat, because their facial features look like a bear and are the size of a large cat. Their tail is nearly as long as the head and body, ranging from 28 to 33 inches long. The average weight of a female is 48 pounds and females are 20 percent larger than males.
When Higgs takes the animals and reptiles on the road, he gets a lot of questions.
“People want to know what they eat and how they live,” he said. “Sometimes visitors have never seen one of a species that we have and we get to tell them all about it.”
In his years with the sanctuary, he’s never had a animal or reptile escape and there have been no injuries.
“People will sometimes ask how they can do what we do,” Higgs said. “They’ll say they want to own a tiger. But we discourage doing that because federal law makes it almost impossible to have exotic animals.”
Most states, too, including Washington, prohibit individuals from owning exotic animals in urban areas.
And he tells people that if they see an exotic animal in the woods, even small ones, leave it there.
“They are best in their own natural environment,” he said.
People also volunteer to work at the sanctuary, he said, and they have an internship program for students who are getting degrees in zoology.
The Walk on the Wild Side exhibit will be at the fair daily for people to stop by and see the animals and ask questions. For more information, go to www.wildsideoregon.org.