By Danny Baggott @Dan_Baggie
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Videographer / director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: Danny Baggott, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper
The 51-year-old owns the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, one of the largest private zoos in the world that rescues and protects over 500 wild animals, from tigers and lions to bears and crocodiles.
Jeff, a multimillionaire, spends his days closely interacting with the most dangerous animals, walking them on leads inside his cabin house and playing in and around their enclosures – he even takes his smaller tigers to the vets in his Ferrari.
Jeff said: “People think we are nuts because we own lions and tigers.
“I have been put in hospital twice – had a total of 400 stitches, fingers bitten off and sewn back on. I have had my hand bitten through all the way.
“But there are so many cars you can buy, there are so many big houses you can live in and if that’s the kind of thing that makes you happy than more power to you.
“I’m satisfied here. I’m back into the wild and this is what I love to do. It’s pretty awesome when you wake up and step out your front door to see lions and tigers.”
Jeff bought the zoo in February 2016 as his love for propagating the safety of animals developed.
And Jeff’s 25-year-old fiancé Lauren Dropla feels the same affection for the cats as she offers a helping hand with maintaining the park on a daily basis.
Lauren said: “These guys are our kids.
“We love them and I, we, would do anything for them. Anything.
“I do take it for granted because I’m around them every day, but I would not trade it for anything in the world and to share it with someone who has the same passion as you makes all that love so much stronger.
Jeff added: “Because of our age difference we won’t have real babies.
“So yeah, these are our kids.”
Jeff made his millions from owning a chain of discount retail stores in the south before going on to manage Evel and Robbie Knievel for a number of years and touring the world with the daredevil stuntmen.
But now, Jeff has returned to his roots in the animal trade and gets his burst of adrenaline from a different source - he often enters an enclosure on site that has 16 tigers running around.
He said: “I managed the Knievel family for years and I always wondered what the acceleration of flying through the air on a motorcycle really felt like.
“I think it’s as close as I can get to that feeling – being with these big cats.
“It’s almost like a spiritual moment for me when a big lion is looking at my face and I am on that cusp of living or dying.
“If they wanted to hurt me, they could do it without any trouble whatsoever.”
Jeff remains totally aware of how dangerous these animals are and this was recently confirmed when a male lion called Jax, a life-long pet to Jeff, suddenly turned on him and bit a chunk out of his arm.
Jeff said: “When you see an animal of this size and you raise him to the size of Jax, you never expect him to turn on you like that. It was pretty close, I didn’t think he was going to kill me but you never do.
“He was a bottle-raised baby and on that day, he just wasn’t in the mood to play.
“For me it’s the adrenaline, you know when something happens when you are in the cage, it’s not about anything other than getting out of that situation.
“And if you’re afraid to get bit, you shouldn’t have lions and tigers.”
The Greater Wynnewood Park recently rescued a mighty 47 cats in just one day – five of which were pregnant.
Jeff’s grandfather trained cats in the 1940s and now he takes pride in carrying on the family tradition.
He added: “We provide 3000 pounds of meat a day to our animals.
“I left a great lifestyle behind to come here – I’ve got a 12,000 square feet house in Colorado that sits empty – whilst I’m here in a 1,500 square feet cabin inside a zoo.
“We are now going to expand the zoo and build on the land we have just bought and bring in some elephants and giraffes.
“I’d rather die in one of these cages with my animals than anywhere else.
“And besides, one of the perks of being a tiger in my park – is that you get to drive to the vet in a Ferrari.”