Unaccredited zoo has "only white tiger on exhibit in Illinois"
Fulton County lion cub is ready for his closeup
Brown’s Oakridge Zoo provides animal for upcoming Disney film
Monday, July 30, 2007
BY AMBER KROSEL
OF THE JOURNAL STAR
SMITHFIELD – A new addition to Hollywood came right from Fulton County recently.
He doesn’t talk or walk on two feet, but is likely one of the cutest actors to be starring in a new Disney movie to be filmed this fall.
He came from a litter of five, and though he doesn’t have a name yet from his new trainers, the owners of Brown’s Oakridge Zoo in rural Smithfield are sure to remember this 3-week-old lion cub.
“I love being able to share them with other people,” said Nancy Brown of the four lion cubs that remain – three female and one male. To date, she and her husband have raised 102 lion, tiger, leopard and other cubs.
But this is the first of Brown’s animals to be famous. The Amazing Animals Production was retiring one of its lion actors and called the couple to arrange a pick-up time for one of the lions before the litter was even born.
“They had heard nothing but good about how healthy and docile they are,” she said with a smile while feeding bottles of formula to other baby animals, bear and deer, at the zoo. “He’s back in California now, safe and sound and doing fine.”
Though the family-owned zoo has been open to the public since 1990, the Browns have been rescuing exotic animals for the last 25 years.
The zoo boasts all types of animals from big cats to bears to peacocks. It’s also home to the only white Siberian tiger on exhibit in the state, Shadow, who was rescued in 1998 from Kansas.
The parents of the most recent lion litter, Kovu and Kiara, have been raised at the zoo since they were rescued as cubs in the late 1990s.
They’ve given the Browns 11 lion cubs over the years, and this litter was a surprising size of five.
“Two to three is usually normal,” Brown said. “I’m just shocked to death they’re all healthy and have been doing so well.”
Recently, Brown’s four remaining lion cubs were playing outside with Goliath, a 5-week-old Siberian tiger. Goliath already weighs about 18 pounds, which is twice the normal size for a tiger his age.
Goliath pounced around with his friends, who are about an arm’s length in size.
Cubs also can’t see until they reach about 6 to 8 weeks old, and until then they move based on sounds and vibrations. Members of the big cat family are born blind and with blue eyes.
Brown said she usually lets the cubs stay with their mother for a week or two after they’re born, but then raises them herself because oftentimes the mother will stop caring for her young. She puts them on bottled formula to make sure they remain good-natured and lets them roam in playpens inside the house.
“The more mellow they are, the better they’re going to be,” she said.
On the weekends, Brown often takes the cubs to exhibits, nursing homes or children’s camps. But she said she encourages anyone to visit during the week to get a chance to meet, hold and pet the cubs.
“The last thing (visitors will) see will be all the little cubs.”
They can sit and play with them until they reach a certain age,” Brown said. “That’s one thing that’s different about our zoo.”
Amber Krosel can be reached at 686-3041 or email@example.com.