Take a walk on the wild side, maybe even run.
That's what athletes will be doing when they participate in the first annual Run Through the Jungle 5K Race May 14 at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point.
Race Director Gary Anderson said the idea spawned from a conversation between two friends and became something quite unique. "No one has ever run a 5K in front of lions before," Anderson said.
That's correct -- the race will actually run through the facility right by all the fenced in cats so participants can see what they're helping to raise money for. Don't be deceived by the title though, walkers are just as welcome to get involved as runners are and winners in both classes will receive awards, Anderson said.
"It's going to be a great race," he said. And after the race tours will be given and live music performed from Craig Brenner.
Anderson said he has gotten to know the center well over the past six months through his volunteering a couple of times each month and forsees the event becoming a yearly festival.
The registration for the race begins at 9:30 a.m. with the race following an hour later. Included in the $20 fee is permission to run in the race, a race t-shirt and a tour of the center. The deadline for entry is Friday May 6.
Clay County has an exotic feline rescue center, huh?
Lodging nearly 200 cats ranging from lions, tigers and panthers to bobcats, cougars and leopards, the center opened with just three cats in 1993, said Rescue Center Director Jean Herrberg.
It takes 2,500 pounds of meat per day to feed the 171 cats. Most of the meat is provided by farmers and people who deliver roadkill. Despite the donations, the Center still has to purchase almost half as much chicken meat each week.
Even though the cats go through thousands of pounds of meat each week, aside from their size, they're not much different than the cats some keep at home.
"They have a lot of the same behaviors and manuerisms," she said.
Herrberg said the Center owns plenty of land, 108 acres, but fundraisers provide money to buy larger cages.
"I started volunteering in '94 and quit teaching school in 2000 to do this full-time," she said on a guided tour of the facility.
Tthe Center is supported by tours offered Tuesday through Sunday, and donations and grants from different foundations, she said.
Ten percent of the younger animals that arrive from zoos, circuses, illegal owners and abandonment are suffering from cataracts. While cataracts usually affects humans later in life, it affects the cats earlier on, she said.
As a rule, circuses are extremely poor owners of animals, she said.
Although a new building was built with a clinic in the basement, the Center's veterinarian, Fred Froderman of Brazil, can't help animals with cataracts. Those animals must be sent to the University of Illinois where they have experience working with exotic animals.
More information on the Center can be found online at www.exoticfelinerescuecenter.org.
Herrberg said she is eager for May 14 because the event will introduce many to the Center.
"It's going to be a fun day," she said.