TUTTLE — Like a shy toddler, the little gibbon ape sidles up to the visitor, and with gangly arms outstretched, offers him a hug.
Teeka, as she's called, and her male companion Marley, are the newest residents at Tiger Safari, an interactive exotic animal park near Tuttle. According to owner Bill Meadows, the two white-handed gibbons are the only ones in the state. Threatened with extinction, the tiny apes with heart-shaped faces are hard to come by.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would own two gibbon apes,” Meadows said.
He holds a grape out to Teeka, who knuckle-walks toward him to accept it. Marley, wanting some attention of his own, swings across a rope ladder, grabs a tree branch, then spreads his arms for balance, and walks the limb like it's a tightrope.
“Showoff,” Meadows says affectionately, as he tosses him a grape.
The two 4-year-old primates were offered to Meadows from a caretaker in Bar Harbor, Maine, who could no longer keep them. Meadows drove 36 hours there and back to get the apes to their new home.
They join 170 other animals that live at the 45-acre park and are available for viewing daily. Meadows or an assistant takes visitors around the park to allow for maximum interaction with the animals.
“The public won't study animals unless they get to interact with them. When they do get to, they get interested. They go home and Google them and read about them. It's so important to engage children, especially, to institute in them a respect for animals and their habitats,” Meadows said.
Much of Tiger Safari is designed to attract children. Tiger Boofari, which runs through Nov. 5, features a hayride and a trip to the pumpkin patch, besides visits with the animals.
At the tiger feeding station, children can watch as staff members use long poles to dangle raw steaks and chicken over the fence for Rajhi, a rare golden tabby, and Sabor, a white Indian, to devour.