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A walk on the wild side

Email   Print   Share By Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
July 23, 2009 | Leisure
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An American alligator spends a lazy day in the water inside his habitat at the Cameron Park Zoo. The zoo is home to two of the large, initimidating reptiles at the Brazos River Country exhibit. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
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A reticulated giraffe wanders through his habitat in the African savannah area of the Cameron Park Zoo. The giraffes share their enclosure with geranuk, storks, crowned cranes and kudu. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
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A large lobster peers from the dark waters of its habitat in Cameron Park Zoo’s Brazos River Country exhibit. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
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A jaguar naps on a rocky precipice at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco. The jaguar seems to spend the majority of its time sleeping. The big cat had no interest in the curious visitors. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
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Wrinkles, a 38-year-old white rhinoceros, unfortunately passed away Tuesday. She used to live adjacent to African elephants and was one of the first animals to arrive at the zoo when it opened in 1993. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
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A lionfish in the freshwater area of the Brazos River Country exhibit. The zoo also has two American alligators in its collection. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
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Sam Jack, the male African lion at the zoo, lives with two lionesses. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
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One of two giant Galapagos tortoises at the Cameron Park Zoo looks around at visitors. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
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A meerkat sits watch on a rocky outcropping in its habitat located outside the African lion area. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
Editor’s Note: I had planned to cover the Comanche Child Development Center’s field trip to the Cameron Park Zoo. The trip was postponed because of temperatures forecasted to reach 103 degrees. This story originally ran in the June 26, 2008, and is reprinted now because the zoo is still a great place to visit.

WACO – A cancelled field trip and a promise to my 3-year-old led me to the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco last Friday.

My son’s daycare class was scheduled to visit the zoo on that day and, of course, my animal-loving toddler had been waiting all week to go. When the day finally came, the trip was postponed. I couldn’t break Cody’s heart, so we drove to the zoo.

I love the Cameron Park Zoo. The park area always is clean and the animals seem well-cared for and content. In fact, the animals were so content most of them were sleeping on Friday morning.

The zoo sits in the middle of Cameron Park, one of the most scenic and vast municipal parks I have seen.

We entered the zoo to what seemed to be screeches of toddlers, sounds with which I am familiar. Instead of young children, the noises were coming from two white-handed gibbons that were having a blast just swinging from ropes hung around their habitat. It’s funny how a noise emitted from a child is annoying while that same noise coming from a small white ape is endearing.

We moved down the walkway past bald eagles, Galapagos tortoises and macaws to an enclosure that housed a variety of small mammals, large rodents and birds. We saw capybaras, agouti, ducks and king vultures. My two favorite inhabitants, the spider monkeys and the sloth, were nowhere to be found. I hope they were inside sleeping.

From there, we hit the zoo’s largest and newest exhibit, the Brazos River Country.

Visitors enter the exhibit through the hull of a sunken Spanish galleon, inside they encounter a 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium full of brightly colored fish and other aquatic animals found in the Gulf of Mexico. Smaller tanks in the same room contain lionfish and one of the biggest lobsters I have seen.

Following along the path, visitors exit the galleon to a beach full of water birds such as white and brown pelicans, gulls, egrets and terns.

Around the corner are two huge alligators. Both were enjoying the water in their habitats that day.

Next, we barely saw a cougar dozing high above the ground on a rocky precipice. She was oblivious to us and the 20 or so other children who came up behind us. Great, a school group.

Two of my favorite zoo inhabitants, the river otters, Jack and Doris, currently are not on exhibit. With a little research I found out the reason for their absence was misconduct on their part. It seems the river otters picked at the caulk that sealed their habitat and now they are on restriction while their enclosure is being repaired. Bad otters.

With no otters to watch, we moved along as the children enjoyed going down the slide that is part of the otter exhibit.

We hurried ahead to find two black bears swimming in their pools. The bears came over to watch us through the Plexiglas, which made me wonder just how secure the glass was against the water and weight of these huge bears. Luckily, the enclosure held and we continued down the path.

A side note here, one of the things I like most about this zoo is the up-close views of the animals. They are literally only separated from visitors by a sheet of Plexiglas in many instances. On the other hand, when that animal is an enormous carnivore, it can be a tad unsettling.

River fish and aquatics were the next stop in a 35,000-gallon freshwater aquarium. The big draw in the river area is the prehistoric-appearing paddlefish, a long black fish that looks like a fish with a platypus bill. Also included in the exhibit area are white crappie, catfish, black bass and crayfish, which are all common in the Brazos River.

Cody was a little freaked out by this exhibit and hesitant to enter. I felt his pain, as I am uneasy just walking into the fish and aquarium part of many pet shops. I am proud to say he did man up and go into the freshwater exhibit.

Around the corner, we found coyotes and Cody’s favorite, a jaguar.

The coyotes were interested in seeing all the people who came by and they would follow anyone who walked around their enclosure.

The jaguar was disinterested, preferring to sun itself on a rock in its enclosure across from the coyotes. Cody just loved watching the large spotted cat and telling everyone within earshot, “this is a jaguar.” When he asked me if he could have one, I decided it was time to move on.

From there, we entered a barn that featured animals of the night. Bats, an adorable porcupine, skunks, a raccoon and barn and screech owls were the featured stars of this exhibit.

Moving along we came upon teepees and bison. The bison were grazing on hay near the middle of their habitat so we had to watch them from a distance. Cody had a blast running through the teepees.

The Brazos River Country ended with white-tailed deer, peccaries which are wild pigs, and turkeys. Although all of these animals are common in this area, the zoo is home to the biggest buck I have seen here. His antlers are covered in velvet now. He has a really great rack.

From there, we skipped the herpetarium because Cody had no interest in the snakes or lizards. I had no argument to that.

Instead, we watched the giraffe, rhinoceros, deer and elephants graze in their habitats.

Then, we saw the lions. One interesting thing about Waco’s lions: a lioness there hangs out around the Plexiglas and when visitors approach, she will pace and rub against the glass. Unfortunately, some parents allow their children to bang on the glass and taunt the lioness. I think this is cruel, so right before we got to the lions, I reminded Cody not to do that. He proceeded to chide other, larger children to not pound on the glass. It was a proud moment.

We watched the meerkats for a while as they ran around, climbing to high spots and craning their necks. For some reason, the meerkat enclosure is directly in front of the lions.

By now we both were getting tired, so we stopped to watch the Sumatran tigers sleep for a few minutes. I think the tigers have been asleep every time I have gone to the zoo. Some people in our vicinity assured me they have actually seen the tigers awake and playing.

Our last stop was to Lemur Island. I was excited because the lemurs are another favorite of mine. Except this day. There was not a playing lemur to be found. The three I did spot were hanging out on a rock wall, barely visible.

After searching for lemurs with little luck, we stopped inside the gift shop, where Cody spent 30 minutes picking out what he wanted.

In all, it was a great day for mother-son bonding and a so-so day for actually seeing animals. Luckily, the zoo is inexpensive ($7 for adults, $5 for children ages 4-12), reasonably sized (52 acres) and a short drive. All these factors make it an excellent day trip for a Family.

For more information about the Cameron Park Zoo, visit the Web site at
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