"We had over 400 people that first weekend, and we didn't even advertise," Wagner said. "They were all just driving by." It won't be until Father's Day weekend, June 18 & 19, that they expect the regular summer busy season to begin, adds Marketing Director Jane Green. That is when schools are out and families often start their summer vacations.
When they visit, they'll find some newcomers among the 29 large cats that include 17 species, who call the park home. They include three Siberian tiger cubs brought to the park in May from a tiger rescue facility that had no room for the them. Also, a pair of jaguar cubs joined the menagerie last week, on loan from a zoo, Green said.
Wagner, who is federally licensed to own and show the big cats, first began raising the animals 23 years ago while living in Minnesota. He realized big cats were his passion and, over a seven year period, trained himself and the cats for public shows. By 1998, he brought his cats to Wildlife Safari in Winston and offered his Predators in Action show during summers. After several years in Winston, and also offering traveling presentations, he decided to settle down at his own park. He chose the Cave Junction property for its busy location on the Redwood Highway, and has spent about $100,000 so far to develop the property.
Wagner isn't done developing his business. By the end of summer, he plans to offer an expanded food service area in his gift shop. Currently, just prepackaged snacks are available. He also plans to install a huge fish tank to show off a variety of tropical fish. Outside, decomposed granite pathways and lawn and separate caged areas where ocelots, servals and leopards lounge. More landscaping is planned, including a rain forest habitat.
For the admission price of $10 for adults (age 13 and older) and $7.00 for children ages 4 to 12, visitors can wander the park at their leisure. From 10 a.m. until the park closes at 6 p.m., there are special presentations and tours offered, including "behind the scenes" tours where guides will take groups to cat enclosures outside the public roaming area to see the large tigers and leopards. Demonstrations involve showing the cats' skills at jumping as well as how staff members train the cats. "The first day we opened I gave 16 tours," Green said. And while the big cats are the star attraction, there's also a chance to see other critters, such as Lary, a red-tailed boa.
Park hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Labor Day weekend. Additional information is abvailalble by calling 592-2957 or on the Internet at www.greatcatsworldpark.com . The park is at 27919 Redwood Highway, about three miles south of Cave Junction.