South Charlotte

Thereby hangs a (tiger) tail

Tiger World

4400 Cook Road, Rockwell, 704-279-6363;

This 31-acre site in eastern Rowan County is filled with cats. Big ones. Tiger World founder Lea Jaunakais acquired the grounds of Metrolina Wildlife Park in 2008 with the goal of saving big cats - and promptly began adding wild felines to the mix of animals already there.

Her goal is twofold: educating visitors - especially kids - about wildlife, and promoting awareness of endangered and threatened animal species from around the world. The World Wildlife Federation estimates the wild tiger population is about 3,200, down from an estimated 100,000 in 1900.

The nonprofit facility is home to Bengal tigers, white Bengal tigers, Siberian tigers, ligers (the rare offspring of a female tiger and male lion), jaguars and leopards. Number of cats: about 50.

Also there? Animals that range from baboons and bears to lemurs and snakes.

But the big cats steal the show. They're all in outdoor enclosures, and their whiskers can be within 5 feet of your nose in some cases.

You're welcome to stroll the grounds. Scheduled guided tours by an animal handler are offered during the week (reservations suggested); keeper talks, where trained staffers bring some of the animals from their enclosures, are held on busier weekends.

On weekends, you can also feed the monkeys, bears and birds from $5 feed cup sold there.

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Tuesday (closed Wednesdays).

Admission: $12; $10 for ages 2-17; $8 for military, police, teachers, nurses and other public-service workers; $10 for 62 and older. Group rate: $8 per person for groups of 10 or more.

Target audience: Families, animal lovers.

Travel time from Charlotte: 45 minutes.

Directions: Interstate 85 North to Exit 68; take N.C. 152 East about four miles; turn right onto Cook Road.