Jungle Safari: Exotic Animals Come to Aberdeen
Lions and tigers at Big Lots, oh my!
Many residents of Aberdeen were turning their heads as they drove down Sandhills Boulevard Wednesday morning when Jungle Safari, a traveling exhibition of exotic animals, set up tents and opened for a five-day display in the Big Lots parking lot at Town and Country Shopping Center.
The exhibition, including tigers, monkeys, a kangaroo and even a camel, will remain open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission to the exhibition is free, but there is a charge for portraits and rides with the animals.
Robert Engesser and his wife, Patricia, own and run the exhibition, traveling to towns all over the South to bring the adventure of a safari to the public. The exhibition funds Engesser's 26-acre farm in Trenton, Fla., where he cares for a variety of animals, including 10 big cats, many of which were "unwanted pets" brought into the U.S. and abandoned.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the importation of big cats is prohibited under the Captive Wildlife Safety Act enacted in 2007; however, individuals may own and transport these animals if they meet specific criteria. Nineteen states prohibit the private ownership of big cats, while some other states ban partial ownership.
Engesser has had to "jump through many hoops" in order to keep running the farm and exhibition started by his parents 40 years ago, but he appreciates the increased regulation of exotic animal ownership.
"You really have to be qualified to have the animals," Engesser says. "They deserve a lot of respect and need a lot of attention."
Engesser and his crew begin their days at 7 a.m., cleaning cages and fenced areas and preparing breakfast for the animals. The monkeys eat a special vegetable diet, while Empress, the tiger cub, and Peanut, the lion cub, eat chicken, turkey or beef. The donkeys and the camel receive baths every morning as the day's preparation continues.
In the evenings, the feeding and cleaning process begins again. Gabby and Sasha, the two adult tigers, and Satin, the black leopard, eat 14 pounds of meat for dinner every day.
"They're just like housecats," Engesser says.
Engesser loves giving the public the ability to interact with the animals and appreciate them at a close range in a way that also does not break budgets.
The exhibit has piqued the interest of many locals coming to shop at Big Lots and surrounding stores, as well as others driving by the shopping center.
Jessica Futrell, a Big Lots employee and Aberdeen resident, has been excited to see the exhibit ever since she heard it was coming three weeks ago.
"When I heard about the lion cub, I thought, 'Oh, I have to do that so bad!'" Futrell said. "I'm a big animal lover, and when I heard about this, I had to check it out."
Engesser expects a large turnout of curious visitors this weekend seeking to enjoy an exotic safari of their own.
Hannah Sharpe is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina.
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