How so? The high concept hinges on the sort of ersatz drama that should be familiar to Wild Kingdom viewers. Take the doughnut-shaped mesh enclosures called "predator feeding tunnels." While visitors huddle inside, lions, tigers, and bears will scramble over the top and sides and begin inhaling chunks of raw meat tossed out by keepers. In the "adventure playground," kids will zip down water slides and climb on jungle gyms while otters and bear cubs mimic their behavior on similar equipment in neighboring enclosures. And at a rustic outdoor stage, experts will show off small creatures born inside the park. "The animals will represent themselves and their species," says Fowler. "They will be ambassadors for the natural world."
Despite the involuntary nature of the captives' diplomacy, animal rights activists are voicing cautious if ambivalent support. "It's certainly a step up from wrestling anacondas," says Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "How much of a step," she adds, "it's too early to tell."