CENTRAL POINT, Ore. -- Don’t be surprised if you hear a growl or a snarl during the 18th annual Newswatch 12 Sportsmen’s & Outdoor Recreation Show at the Jackson County Expo Feb. 23-25.
Some of this year’s featured guests will be from the cat family and they’ll make their presence known under the guidance of Craig Wagner, the owner and operator of the Great Cats of the World Park. Wagner will be bringing five cats from the park that is located on the western edge of Cave Junction.
The feline guests will be Lynka, an 8-month-old Siberian lynx; Turbo, an 8-month-old North American bobcat; Sancho, a 2-year-old geoffroy cat; Whistler, a 15-month-old North American cougar; and Maki, a 6-year-old Asian fishing cat. Fishing cats have partially webbed feet, they swim like otters and the fish they catch make up 80 percent of their diet.
Wagner and his cats will put on several presentations during the show.
“They are educational,” he said of his presentations. “I talk about the cats’ habitat, about the issues the cats are facing. Cats as a group have some of the most endangered species in the world. Twenty-three out of the 37 species of cats in the world are on the endangered species list, and several of the other species are considered threatened.
“The problems these cats have are loss of habitat, poaching, illegal trade of body parts and a lack of prey items for food,” he explained.
Wagner, 62, has been working with and training numerous exotic cats for the past 36 years. He opened the Great Cats park 13 years ago to give people a chance to see the animals up close. The park is home to 52 cats from 18 species. He calls it the most varied group of cats in the world.
“The cats are just 5 feet away from people,” he said. “You can see natural type cat behaviors. They are so close you can count their whiskers.”
Wagner has trained most of his cats since they were kittens, then shared them with the public through stage shows, photo shoots for advertisements, calendars and posters, and in movies.
“When the most dangerous predator in the world treats you as an equal, there’s nothing better,” he said. “It’s a very unique bond that I have with the cats.”
On stage, he has the cats on leashes, climbing poles, jumping from one platform to another, walking across logs, snarling and sharpening their claws on a post. He also will “horse around” with them, having them jump up or stand up for a hug, or having them jump on his back.
“It’s important to keep a cat busy, and not have it focus on you or the audience,” Wagner said with a smile.
For more information on the park and its endangered cats, go online to www.greatcatsoftheworld.net, or call 541-592-2957.