Co-owner talks plans for new Thackerville zoo

Published: Feb. 21, 2019 at 8:40 PM CST
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A new zoo could be welcoming guests in Thackerville this year.

One owner is facing charges for owning exotic animals without a license, and the other is under fire by PETA for declawing exotic big cats.

"We aren't violating any laws. We aren't violating any regulations," said Red River Safari co-owner Tim Stark.

Stark runs a non-profit called Wildlife in Need, an exotic animal refuge in Indiana.

He's been friends for years with Jeff Lowe, the owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.

Now the two are collaborating on a new project: Red River Safari, planned for 37 acres behind the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville.

But people who live nearby are concerned.

"There's many reasons. It's not just safety. You know, it's bringing in traffic, trash, just little things," said Amy Metcalf, who lives nearby.

"We are not here to get anybody hurt in any way, shape or form," Stark said.

Stark said they'll have an eight-foot-tall fence surrounding the property.

"Never had anything get lose, never had anything get out," Stark said.

But he has been accused of abuse.

In February 2018, PETA filed a suit against Stark's organization for violating the Endangered Species Act, leading to an injunction.

"Where I'm not allowed to declaw anymore cats for now," he said.

PETA claims two of his big cat cubs died from complications of being declawed by a veterinarian.

"No cat in captivity needs their claws," Stark said.

Lowe is facing an active warrant out of Las Vegas for having exotic animals without a license and doing business without a license.

Stark said they'll bring in the exotic animals from his refuge in Indiana.

And from the zoo in Wynnewood, the founder of that zoo, Joe Exotic, is in jail awaiting trial on a murder for hire charge.

"I've got 350 plus exotic animals," Stark said.

But eventually he expects to have 2,000 to 3,000 animals, not just big cats but koalas, sloths and more.

"You name it, I've got it. If I don't got it, I'll go get it," Stark said.

He said the Red River Safari will provide interactive, hands-on experiences to visitors complete with concessions, events, even a bed and breakfast.

"They're going to be amazed, they're going to be shocked at what we do and how we do it. They're going to love it," Stark said.

He said the zoo will be open by the end of the year.