See tigers up-close at Out of Africa Wildlife Park - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

See tigers up-close at Out of Africa Wildlife Park

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CAMP VERDE, Ariz. -

There are plenty of ways to close to wildlife. You can take a hike through the wilderness, you can visit a zoo. But for one zoo north of the valley, some might argue that they're getting extremely close to wildlife -- because they swim with full grown tigers.

We went up to the Out of Africa Wildlife Park near Camp Verde. For good reason, they keep the general public away from the tigers, but we wanted to get as close as we could.

We mounted a small camera onto one of the men who plays with the tigers -- and as you can see, it gave us a unique look at what it is like to have a tiger at your back.

With an animal like this... there's no room for error.

The man in the water is Jeff Harwell, one member of a team that works and plays with these tigers every day.

"Always had a calling. Always loved the cats. I didn't think that working hands on with the cats was a realistic dream. But here I am," says Harwell, Out of Africa Wildlife Park.

Here, "hands on" is bit of an understatement. This show is always a crowd pleaser.

"It was awesome. I like how she leaped up in the air," says audience member Jack Martinez.

"It is pretty amazing. Even just having a dog. Playing with a dog you get a little nip here and there and to think of a couple hundred pound animal like that it is kind of impressive," says Matt Martinez.

Getting to this point where the tiger knows you and likes you -- takes time.

"I call them and they come running. They know I don't have food, they run all the way up to me and they just kind of rub against me, you can see it in their facial expressions."

When we were at Tiger Splash this week, Chalet, a 6-year-old, 370 pound, Bengal-Siberian tiger, wasn't afraid to get wet.

"The tiger got really close to him at some points. It was really interesting to see," says audience member Ayla Campisa.

Jeff has been working these tigers for about six years. The animals know him. But keep in mind these are wild animals. Things don't always go according to plan. And he's got the scars to prove it.

"I don't like to show them off because each one of these is from a time that I have messed up. We are not really proud of our scars."

A mess up usually means someone got in the tiger's way. The whole idea behind this is to keep the tiger chasing the toy, not the person.

We caught with Harwell right after the show. He admits he's not always comfortable out there.

"It's always fun despite the fear, and sometimes scary things are just fun, whether it be a roller coaster or it's just a big tiger."

"Mammals like Chalet have a play instinct, they are just hard wired to play, they are just having fun. In real life we let them practice every instinct except the kill one."

The Out of Africa Wildlife Park isn't your typical zoo.

You can closer to the animals than you might expect, even feed a giraffe.

You can feed the tigers too, but that's done through a fence and at a safe distance. Only the pros are allowed to get this close.

By the way, tigers are never forced to participate in the show. They have mood swings too, and if they don't want to play, the handlers can tell.

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