Pennsylvania couple open wild animal park

CHUCK HAYES
Staff Writer
Warren Times Observer [Warren, PA]
Monday, August 14, 2006

Maybe you’ve heard the rumor that there are cougars to be found in Warren County.

Believe them.

All you have to do is travel down Sorenson Rd. a mile or so from Cherry Grove Rd.

You’ll not only find a pair of cougars by the names of Shelby and Josie, but Ozzie the river otter, a baby lynx, two timber wolves, a trio of black bears and a variety of skunks and raccoons.

They’re all part of the blossoming Wild Woods Animal Park owned by John and Pam Pape.

The Papes began work on the animal park six years ago and looking ahead, their plans are boundless.

Wild Woods is licensed by the state and United States Department of Agriculture as an education facility and the Papes are concentrating on species that were at least at one time native to the area.

“It started as a hobby and now it’s just a passion of ours,” said Pam Pape.

“You won’t see monkeys or giraffes or zebras. All of those animals are Asian or African,” said John Pape. “All of these animals were native to the area at one time or another.”

John Pape said the animal park holds exactly the same type of license that all zoos have and is subject to rigorous state and federal inspections twice a year to assure that the animals are being well cared for.

The Papes have tried to keep the wildlife park low-key, but customers of Pape’s collision service couldn’t help but notice the six exhibits and word has spread.

“Schools kept calling all the time so we decided to take it a little further,” said Pam Pape.

Where a swimming pool had been located, the Papes are now building a stage for educational programs about the animals, which will begin next year.

Probably the biggest development has been “We got the Seneca Nation of Indians involved,” said John Pape. “The Seneca and native wildlife just go together hand and hand.”

The involvement of the Seneca, said Pape, provides the opportunity to look at the native animals from the perspective of Native Americans.

For now, the animals are in cages in which the Papes have tried to simulate natural environment. For instance, an apple tree spreads over the top of the bear enclosure, providing the trio of bears with not only shade but a source of treats.

But John Pape is planning “Phase Two” of the animal park which would provide even more natural accommodations for the animals and increase the enjoymentof those watching them.

The 21-acre Cherry Grove property includes an area with large rock formations which, with the addition of a minimal amount of some strategically placed fencing, could provide a natural barrier for the animals.

People viewing the animals could eventually stand or sit in a pavilion on overlooks and view the animals roaming in natural habitat below, said Pape.

“There are zoos that spend millions of dollars for what we have right here,” Pape said of the topography. “You can’t buy that.”

All of the residents of the park draw attention, including Cheyenne and Dakota the timber wolves and Cruiser the ten-week old Lynx, but Pam Pape said there does seem to be one animal stealing the show — Ozzie the Otter.

“Everyone loves the otter,” she said. “He’s a ham.”

Generally, reservations are needed to see the park and tours may be arranged by contacting Pape’s auto collision business. But a special event open to the public is being planned for Labor Day weekend.

As part of Wild Woods new connection with the Seneca Nation, the first Wild Woods Seneca Indian Festival will be held at the Cherry Grove park from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Sept. 2 and 3.

The Seneca Nation will entertain and educate with story-telling and authentic Native American food and music. There will be demonstrations of basket weaving, hide tanning, soapstone carving, and bead working. Wild Woods will present “The Great Little Bear Show” with Jeanette Rix and birds of prey and reptile shows.

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