A couple of years ago we took a road trip in the midwest, part of a quest to see all 50 states, that brought us through Oklahoma. As we were headed north on Highway 35, we saw signs for “Interactive Zoo, Baby Tigers, Burger Barn”. Of course, we had to check that out!
After pulling off the highway we drove down a back road until we saw the gravel driveway and parking lot for the G.W. Zoo. Unlike some of the stock footage used in Tiger King – the docuseries that tells the story of zoo owner Joe Exotic and the drama that ensued between small zoo owners – there few visitors there, just us and three other women. The animals seemed lethargic and the “zoo” just had an overall feeling of being unkempt. There were no baby tigers (or burger barn) when we were there but we did see a trailer filled with puppies in dirty cages that you could pet if you wanted to, you could even take one home for an adoption fee.
The most interesting (disturbing?) element of the zoo at the time we were there was that you could feed huge chunks of raw meat to the tigers from a ski pole. You could buy the meat in the gift shop and then you were free to wander the park alone. There was no supervision for the feeding, it didn’t matter which tigers you fed or how much you gave them. At one point two tigers were fighting as they tried to get the meat off our ski pole. One didn’t try at all, appearing too sickly to eat. We did see the bears, tigers, and monkeys, There was an extraordinary number of animals there considering it was really just a patch of dirt with some cages set up in the middle of nowhere.
I can’t say we didn’t have fun. How often do you get to feed a full-grown tiger? It was pretty cool. But, even then, there was a sense that the animals, and the owners, could have used a little help.
Then there was the Joe Exotic. There was merch, bumper stickers, step & repeat banners, and more all featuring Joe Exotic everywhere. So it came as no surprise when we saw the Netflix series, you could tell being there that this was a guy who wanted to be famous. If we only knew then what we know now!
It appears the zoo is still open at this location and just as it was when we were there but, as the series explains, there is a new zoo being built that will simply be called the Oklahoma Zoo and will replace what is now known as the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.
Here are a few photos from our visit (and yes, we did see John Reinke, but if you want to spot him now you’ll have to go his hometown in Texas):