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.
Pharaoh the lion will roar on cue if Meadows tickles his whiskers through a fence.
Other animals include a Russian grizzly bear named Koda, a new, black-and-white ruffed lemur called Andro, Bella the spider monkey and a hyena. There are also ring-tailed lemurs, African-crested porcupines, llamas, kangaroos, alligators, deer, giant spur turtles, colorful, talking parrots, a boa constrictor and an anaconda.
A Jungle Safari treehouse stands 30 feet tall and overlooks the entire park. For overnight stays, a Safari hut sleeps up to six people. The hut offers kitchen amenities and a deck that overlooks a lake.
An education center features 30-foot beamed ceilings, flat-screened televisions tuned to nature shows, a large fireplace, gift shop and a nesting spot for an anaconda built into a front counter. A banquet hall is available for weddings, fundraisers and cocktail parties.
Meadows, an Oklahoma City firefighter, opened Tiger Safari 10 years ago with a small assortment of animals — a mountain lion, tiger and a few domesticated species — adding others as he could afford to acquire them.
“It wasn't until this year that I had time to step back and look around. When I did, I thought, ‘Wow, I really did this.' This has surpassed every dream I've ever had since I've been out here,” he said.
Tiger Safari is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, or special tours can be arranged by appointment. Admission is $10 per person, with feeding privileges, or $8 for adults and $7 for children, without feedings.
For more information, go to www.tigersafari.us.