King of the Jungle
Worker heeds call to care for Waccatee Zoo's animals
By Blake Aldridge
The Sun News
TOM MURRAY/The Sun News
Tony Bolt carefully pets Lila and Akshara, a Bengal tiger pair, before feeding them at the Waccatee Zoo in Socastee.Tony Bolt's first experience with Waccatee Zoological Farm was in 1991 when he sold them his 6-foot red-tail boa constrictor.
"That was the first big snake [at the zoo]. Sold it to him dirt cheap," Bolt said.
A year later he returned to check on the snake and realized the zoo was the place he needed to be. He said he told zoo founder Archie Macklen, "You need me to work here."
And with two pickup trucks, a trailer with a canoe inside and two horses, Bolt made the move from Greenwood that would change his life.
He now lives on the zoo property and has played a major role in the growth of the park.
His daily responsibilities include cleaning, feeding and taking care of the big cats - a Siberian tiger, two Bengal tigers, two lions, two cougars, a leopard, three bobcats, and a serval. He also takes care of the camels, including Clyde, the first camel at the zoo, and Chico, the chimpanzee, who has more room in his "dome" than some people have in their apartments.
Question | What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
Answer | "The consciousness and the care and the way [the owners] think about the animals. ... If there's [an animal] that just looks like he's not having a good day, we immediately [provide] constant care, try to figure out what's wrong with it."
Q | What is the worst part about your job?
A | Dealing with aging or ailing animals. "We have a cougar that, she was an adult when I came here, she was born here. Before it was a zoo, she used to play in the yard over here, and she's getting on in age. She's got arthritis, of course. When she doesn't have a good quality of life, we will have to do something. And that is a good and bad thing."
Q | What is the one question visitors ask you the most?
A | "When they ask you, 'Oh, do you go in with the cats? Oh, I'd like to go in with the cats.' Or 'I'd like to have a cat.' And I try to instill in their brain, you don't want a big cat. You really don't want to go in with a big cat. And they think it's cool. Or '[Did] you go catch 'em out in the wild?' Some people still think that zoo animals come from the wild. And we both know they don't do that anymore."
Q | What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
A | "The best thing is stay in school. Get all the knowledge you can and learn at least three languages. As they say, knowledge is power. ... Pretty much sample it all - find somebody that's raising exotic animals and go help out for a few days a week."
Q | What is your favorite part of the Waccatee Zoo?
A | "When you go to an animal and you know he's happy. As far as enrichment, you don't need to go spend $300 on these special balls for these cats. You can put a piece of log in there and they're tickled to death with it. Pumpkins, you'd be surprised what they do with pumpkins. You put a regular basketball in there, they're going to tear it to shreds in no time. Take a big box, fold it up, put a little something in it they like [and] turn 'em loose. Just like children, you go spend a hundred dollars on a toy truck, they're over here playing in the box it came in."
Q | What is the best part of your day?
A | "Early in the mornings and late in the evenings. The animals are settled. They done had their meals, they're laid back, you know they had their exciting day. We'll go and hang out with the animals. We always try to interact with all the primates, cats everyday. Some two or three times a day."
Q | What is your title?
A | "Title is 'Whatever Needs To Be Done.' I learned that after one week."
Q | Is what you're doing now what you wanted to be growing up as a kid?
A | "Always. ... I would sneak out of church - leave a window open and there's woods nearby - I'm gone. I'm going to find something. Snakes, whatever. I'm in the creeks."
If you go
What | Waccatee Zoo
Where | 8500 Enterprise Road, off S.C. 707 in Socastee
Information | Waccatee is a privately owned zoo featuring exotic animals such as apes, tigers and camels, and the petting zoo variety. Open 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily. $7 for ages 13 and older, $3.50 for ages 1-12.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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