Local zoo introduces Siberian tiger cubs

Local zoo introduces Siberian tiger cubs

By Donna Smith donna.smith@oakridger.com

The Oak RidgerPosted Aug 28, 2008 @ 10:11 PM

When James Cox was a boy he went to the circus and watched Gunther Gebel-Williams, the legendary Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey animal trainer, for the first time.

He found his hero.

Now James gets to emulate his late hero in a small way as a caretaker and rescuer of animals — both exotic and domestic — at the Little Ponderosa Zoo.

And now he’s also one step closer to being like his hero, thanks to the arrival of two Siberian tiger cubs to the family-owned and -operated zoo in the rural area between Clinton and Lake City.

”Gunther” is a 6-week-old male, and ”Gebel,” a 12-week-old female. The two cats have called the Little Ponderosa home for two weeks.

The Little Ponderosa Zoo recently got its state license to house the big cats after a year and a half long effort. It’s believed to be the eighth facility in Tennessee licensed for them.

But for James and his family it’s about more than being in an elite class of zoo facilities.

“We’ve really rescued these two kittens,” James said Monday.

A man in Windwood, Okla., about 90 miles north of Dallas, rescues big cats, James explained. The man has 125 big cats he’s rescued from people or facilities that can no longer take care of the cats or take care of them properly. Two of the tigers were pregnant when he rescued them and Gunther and Gebel are the offspring.

The man gave the tiger cubs to the Coxes and they drove to Oklahoma to pick them up and bring them back to Clinton, rather than fly them in because of the stress that flying might have caused the felines.

The Oklahoma man is not a big cat breeder, James emphasized. Likewise, Little Ponderosa has no plans to breed big cats either. Gunther will be neutered when he’s a little older.

When Gunther was brought to the zoo two weeks ago James could hold him in his hand. Now he’s much more than a handful. Gunther’s physical build is now larger than a 20-pound housecat, but he doesn’t weigh as much.

His adoptive sister, Gebel, is more than twice as big and she’s already showing characteristics of a cat in the wild.

“He’ll soon catch up with her because the male always gets bigger,” James said. He estimated that Gebel will reach 600 pounds by adulthood, while Gunther will be 700 pounds or more.

While Gunther is still bottle fed, the female is starting to eat some meat. At six months, the tigers will begin eating 20 pounds of meat daily. It’s a diet that could prove costly, but James pointed out that Food City in Clinton is donating all meats and produce for all of the estimated 200 animals at the Little Ponderosa. Shoppers often find James at the grocery store loading up a shopping cart.

East Tennessean Larry Waters is donating his time to work with the tigers and teach others at the zoo. James explained that the license requires that someone have at least two years experience in handling big cats.

The new $50,000 tiger facility is made of a thick concrete floor and heavy wire caging. Big trees have been cut away so the facility isn’t in the fall zone of any trees, in case a bad storm or tornado rips through the area. That’s a safeguard for both the cats and the Ponderosa’s neighbors.

Little Ponderosa will be hosting an official Welcoming of the Tigers from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 20. Kids 10 and under will get in free. There’ll be free hot dogs and musical entertainment on hand. A special ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. to dedicate the new tiger facility to a well-known local resident, who will remain anonymous until the ceremony.

While at the zoo for the special event, people can view and sometimes pet many of the other animals housed there.

To get to the Little Ponderosa Zoo from Oak Ridge, travel U.S. Highway 61 to Clinton, turn left on Main Street, go past the Anderson County Courthouse and travel several miles on U.S. Highway 25W, also called Lake City Highway. Turn left on Granite Road after passing Copeland Brothers Electric on the left. Follow the signs. For more information, go to the Web site, www.littleponderosazoo.com. Admission costs are $8 a person, children 2 and under are free. The zoo is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.




  • Show Comments (1)

  • Dora Tomchak

    This is Gunther's story 🙂

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