Broken Arrow Safari Built Cages With Weather In Mind

Thursday, May 7th 2015, 6:34 pm
By: Tess Maune

The term 'tigernado' was posted all over social media after reports an exotic safari had been hit by Wednesday night's tornado near Oklahoma City.

Tuttle's Tiger Safari did take a direct hit by the storm, but the owner said no animals were ever actually on the loose.

Special Coverage: May 6 Tornadoes

There's a similar safari in Broken Arrow that said it has a plan to protect both the big cats and community if it was ever hit by a storm.

The animals at Safari's Sanctuary have never been in the wild. They mainly come from people who think they want an exotic animal as a pet, but realize it's not feasible.

Storm season is a concern at the sanctuary, but owner, Lori Ensign, said she built the place with the weather in mind.

“Look at that, he doesn't have to do anything and he's gorgeous,” she said of Harley the lion.

Harley is one of the kings of Safari's Sanctuary Zoo, Broken Arrow's haven for exotic animals that have no other place to go.

“Anything somebody tries to get for a pet, about six months later they end up here,” Ensign laughed.

There are 26 meat-loving big cats on the property. Some share a space while others live in their own high-fenced enclosure.

“1/8-inch wall thickness fencing, so it's oilfield pipe so it's very, very heavy duty,” she said. “They were designed like Fort Knox for these tigers.”

Even with the strongest materials, like most Oklahomans, tornado season makes Ensign uneasy.

“It's every zoo's nightmare, whether it's the tigers or the goats, you don't want the animals being hurt,” she said.

Ensign said storm season was a factor when she and her husband built the sanctuary.

“I never really worry about the big cats because that was our initial design, we designed all of them down into this valley, so generally a tornado would skim over the top and not drop down into the valley,” she said.

The animals live behind two fences, a primary cage and a secondary cage, then there's a perimeter fence for added protection.

Ensign said tranquilizers are on site if an animal escapes, though she knows if one were to find its way into a neighborhood, it would likely never come back.

“Human life has to come first and if they were to get off of a premise and be in a neighborhood or a place where they would be putting humans at harm, the police would have to step in and probably shoot them,” she said. “You can only get there so fast with a dart gun. Sad, but true, they are still wild animals.”

Wild animals that can be as sweet as a housecat, as long as they stay caged.

“They play just like kitty cats. They don't realize how powerful they are at all,” said Ensign.

We also checked with the Tulsa Zoo. It checks the weather several times a day and said every animal has an indoor, concrete safe space and when severe weather comes in all the animals are taken inside for safe keeping.