Tiger World open, ready to thrill
By Sara Gregory
ROCKWELL ó Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The old Metrolina Wildlife Park re-opened Tuesday with a new name, a new owner and new animals.
Opening Tiger World to teach about conservation and wild animals has been owner Lea Jaunakais’ goal for a long time.
“This has been a dream of mine ever since I was a child,” Jaunakais said. “I’m so excited to be here today.”
Jaunakais led the first tour group through the zoo that houses dozens of large exotic animals, including a baby tiger and lion, both born on Memorial Day.
“These guys are being bottle fed just like a little baby,” Jaunakais explained to children on the tour.
Jaunakais, a South Carolina native, bought the farm earlier this year after efforts to open a zoo in Chester County failed due to neighbors’ protests.
She was eager to buy the Rowan County zoo when then-owner Steve Macaluso put it up for sale. Because Jaunakais was a volunteer at the Metrolina Wildlife Park, the animals knew and welcomed her.
Tuesday, many came up to Jaunakais to get an affectionate nuzzle and rub on the back through their fenced-in habitats.
Many of the cats “chuffed” at her ó that’s the noise they make when they’re trying to say hello.
“Cats really like to vocalize,” she said. “One of the ways the keepers learn to communicate is they learn to make the sounds.”
And being the keepers of the food ó Tiger World feeds out 330 pounds of raw meat a day to the zoo’s carnivores ó makes them friends of the animals.
Brutus and Miss Cleo, two Syrian bears native to the Middle East, ate tomatoes and grapes from the mouth of bear trainer Katy McCall. They followed that snack with a gallon of Apple Cider ó bears love juice, she said.
Some of the animals are friendlier than others, Jaunakais said. Tuesday, one cat, a male lion named Mufasa, roared to let Jaunakais know she was not welcome near his partner, a female lion named Nala.
“Any time it’s breeding season, this is how he acts,” she said. “He doesn’t want anybody ó male or female ó near his lady.”
Many of the male cats have had vasectomies and can’t reproduce. The zoo is looking to breed some of the animals though, to sell to other zoos.
For Jaunakais, the 30-acre zoo is a haven for animals that need help. This includes a blind and partly deaf Canadian lynx and tigers abused by former circus owners. The zoo has rehabilitated 10 animals for other owners in the past few months, she said.
She calls the cage home to a black leopard and an Asiatic tiger the “misfit cage”: The leopard came to the zoo with a tumor that turned out to be benign, and the tiger came with a broken hind leg that had to be amputated.
Both of those animals would have been euthanized had the zoo not taken them in, she said, but now they’re thriving.
Tiger World is already drawing visitors from far-off places. Lisa Haverlock, her husband and three children came from Rock Hill to see the exotic animals.
“We have a cat at home,” she said. “It was neat for them to see the big cats do what the little cats do, too.”
Tiger World is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
$10 Children (2-12) and Seniors over 62
Free for children under the age of 2
$8 Group Rate – for ten or more visitors