Innisfail’s Discovery Wildlife Park got a big thumbs up from world-renowned animal expert Jack Hanna.
Hanna stumbled on the zoo during his visit to Alberta last month and liked it so much he intends to feature Discovery Wildlife Park in an episode of his syndicated television series, Into the Wild, say owners Doug Bos and Debbi Rowland.
“When somebody that well-respected tells you you’re doing a good job, that just raises you to another level. It’s very exciting,” said Rowland.
She and her husband, Bos, were leaving an Innisfail restaurant last month when they were approached by a familiar looking person, who turned out to be Hanna,
The animal expert told them he happened to be driving to various attractions in Alberta when he picked up their zoo’s publication, Walk on the Wild Side, in a hotel lobby in Innisfail.
After Bos told Hanna about Discovery Wildlife Park’s mandate — to take in animals that would otherwise be euthanized and use them to educate the public about wildlife — Hanna jokingly told off his staff for not putting Discovery Wildlife Park on the agenda, recalled Rowland.
“He said, ‘I oughta kick your butts. Why aren’t we filming here?’”
The famed animal expert and his crew showed up at the park on Aug. 18 for what Rowland thought would be a couple of hours of videotaping. But Hanna didn’t leave until seven hours later, having filmed bears, jaguars, porcupines and a baby beaver.
Rowland was pleased to hear the former director of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio say their bears and large cats were among the happiest animals he had ever seen.
The trick is keeping their minds active, said Rowland, who uses the bears to help give public education sessions on bear safety.
She and Bos also allow the park’s skunks to race each other and recently taught the large cats — who, like most of the park’s exotic animals, come from zoos that have closed — to paint on easels with their paws.
While critics might say this activity should not be done by wild creatures, Rowland said the position of standing on hind legs with front paws raised comes naturally to cats and the “adaptation” of using paint is something the jaguars find interesting.
Unlike many bored cats at other zoos, the jaguars at Discovery Wildlife Park do not spend their lives sleeping or pacing along the fence, said Rowland, who added that Hanna confirmed the animals are not struggling with obesity, like many other captive cats.
The television personality also commended the zoo’s trainers for never raising their voices when addressing the animals, said Rowland.
“It was a big pat on the back.”
Rowland and Bos look forward to seeing the Discovery Wildlife Park segment when it appears on Hanna’s show, Into the Wild. The couple were told it could air anytime between November and February.
Hanna also visited the Medicine River Wildlife Centre near Spruce View as part of a tour of Alberta.