TUMALO, Ore. - If you heard there were lions, tigers and jaguars living among us here in Central Oregon -- because we don't have a zoo, you probably wouldn't believe it.
An exotic cat sanctuary in Tumalo hasn't been open to the public -- until now.
Local tour company The Bend Trolley (www.bendtrolley.com) is adding a whole new tour so you can see these magnificent animals up close.
Step foot off the trolley and first up, you'll see a black panther who used to be in movies, was declawed as a kitten and now suffers from arthritis because of it.
But the 18-year-old, who growled and hissed several times while we were there, was rescued and is living out her life at Hanson Exotics Ranch in Tumalo.
She's roommates with her spotted leopard friend Oden, who loves attention and the camera.
The family cattle and hay ranch is the second stop on a new tour put together by the Bend Trolley.
For $65, you get very up close and personal with the gorgeous animals for the afternoon.
"They (the visitors) are enjoying it," says Diane Hanson, who co-owns the ranch with her husband David. "It's how close you can get to the cats, I believe, and you can see their personalities, instead of from a distance."
Hanson and her husband started in the late 1970s with just one cougar. Then it grew, to snow leopards, the biggest white tiger you'll ever see, another Bengal tiger, caracal cats -- and the most picture-perfect and gigantic male lion, King, along with his playful, soon-to-be girlfriend, Sophie.
The Hansons are licensed and inspected twice a year by the USDA, Fish and Wildlife and the Department of the Interior.
They rescue and breed for zoos or deer parks only when a cat is needed. Their mission, they say, is to help socialize the cats and protect extinct species.
"We've raised 49 snow leopards over the years, and the kids have all grown up with them and same with the cougars," explained Hanson. "Lots of cougars and leopards."
Bend Trolley Owner Blake Stamos has done only two tours so far for members of the Bend Visitors Association, Visit Bend and various hotels and the Tower Theatre, so they can promote this new tour to their clients this summer.
"It's been great so far," Stamos said. "Tons of local support, and actually, local people have no idea this existed -- I had no idea either."
But east of Bend on Highway 20 is where this wild animal tour starts. Pine Mountain Ranch raises buffalo, yak, goats, chicken, ducks and turkeys, and sells the meat at farmers markets across the state and online.
Owner Alan Rousseau is your guide.
*This is my definite purpose in life, to raise good food, to raise the animals in a great environment, to save some native species or heritage varieties or species that are few in existence," explains Rousseau.
On the tractor tour, you'll drive among each species, learning about the animal's history and the health benefits to eating-grass fed meat like yak and buffalo.
"The question people get who play the Trivial Pursuit game is, what's the only mammal in the world they haven't found cancer in? It's buffalo," Rousseau says while talking with visitors.
For Rousseau and the Hansons, it's a three-hour tour that aims to amaze and educate locals and tourists.
"The two of us had something very, very in common," Rousseau says, "that we have these wonderful ranches, and we have the opportunity to share with people and to educate people on what it is we're doing."
The Wild Animal Tour on The Bend Trolley runs on Thursdays with groups of 10 or more.
It's $65 for adults, $55 for those 17 and under.
Check their website, www.bendtrolley.com to make reservations and to check out the other new offerings for the summer.
There are more new tours that start this week as well.