GLADES COUNTY — The public is invited to attend an open house at the Wild at Heart Wildlife Center west of Okeechobee on Saturday, June 29. It will be the last time people in this area will be able to see their tigers Sherkahn and Diamond (a rare white tiger) and their lion Malachi.
The owners, Jeremy and Jamie Hargett, have health certificates on those animals, original occupants of the park that used to be known as Animal Adventures, which are good for 30 days. After this week, though, they have only about two more weeks to get the animals transferred to another nonprofit wildlife park in northern Alabama, Tigers for Tomorrow at Untamed Mountain, that has agreed to take them.
Details of the transport are still being worked out, but Sherkahn, Diamond and Malachi won’t be here for any future Wild at Heart events. Mr. Hargett confirmed Tuesday that they will still be here on Saturday, because logistics could not finalized this week for the trip of hundreds of miles. Because of the recent extreme summer heat, a special large air-conditioned trailer is required.
The Hargetts are battling an eviction lawsuit by Myrtle Island Ranch, a corporation controlled by the daughter of former owner Sue Pearce from which they lease the sanctuary property. They’re trying to raise money both for the legal battle and to shrink the number of animals they’re caring for to a more manageable level. Wild at Heart still will be home to a half-dozen more tigers and a small pride of lions.
A hearing in the lawsuit is set for July 10 before 20th Circuit Judge Jack Lundy at the Glades County Courthouse in Moore Haven. Last week they received an anonymous donation sufficient to let them retain their lawyer and continue to fight the lawsuit.
The couple has had several volunteers working at the park to get ready for their public event this weekend, sprucing up the enclosures and grounds. They also received a donated load of clean used tired with which they’ve fashioned swings for their primates, which include baboons, kinkajous and lemurs.
Wild at Heart will admit visitors Saturday at $3 a head; parking will be free, and hotdogs and burgers will be available at $5 a plate, with nominal prices for beverages. Mrs. Hargett advises that everyone coming should make sure to bring sunscreen and insect repellent.
The wildlife park is located at 5001 S.W. Rucks Dairy Road, off State Road 70 about 15 miles west of Okeechobee. It will be open to the public from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. All of their wild animals will be in secure enclosures. A collection of snakes will be brought for display and interaction as well, and the lemurs are tame enough that people will be allowed to handle them.