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“The problems these cats have are loss of habitat, poaching, illegal trade of body parts and a lack of prey items for food,” he explains.
Craig, 62, has been working with and training numerous exotic cats for the past 36 years. He opened the Great Cats park 13 years ago to give people a chance to see the animals up close. The park is home to 52 cats from 18 species. He calls it the most varied group of cats in the world.
“The cats are just 5 feet away from people,” Craig says. “You can see natural type cat behaviors. They are so close you can count their whiskers.”
Craig has trained most of his cats since they were kittens, then shared them with the public through stage shows, photo shoots for advertisements, calendars and posters, and in movies.
“When the most dangerous predator in the world treats you as an equal, there’s nothing better,” Craig says. “It’s a very unique bond that I have with the cats.”
On stage, Craig has the cats on leashes, climbing poles, jumping from one platform to another, walking across logs, snarling and sharpening their claws on a post. He also will “horse around” with them, having them jump up or stand up for a hug, or having them jump on his back.
“It’s important to keep a cat busy, and not have it focus on you or the audience,” Craig says with a smile.
The park, located one mile south of Cave Junction, is open and offers 90-minute tours from mid-March through October and on weekends only in November and February.
For more information on the park and its endangered cats, go online to www.greatcatsoftheworld.net, or call 541-592-2957.