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Austin Zoo, Animal Sanctuary: A walk on the wild side thatís close to home

Email   Print   Share By Rachel Parks, Sentinel Leisure Editor
July 29, 2010 | Leisure
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One of the Bengal tigers lies in the morning sun. The zoo has several big cat exhibits and features lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and cougars. Rachel Parks, Sentinel Leisure Editor
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A rooster struts around the grounds. The zoo is home to a large number of common farm animals in addition to more exotic animals.
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A young visitor at the zoo feeds goats in the petting corral. Visitors can purchase small bags of feed from the zoo to feed the large group of deer, llamas, sheep and goats that reside at the zoo.
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The zoo also has a large picnic area for visitors to take a break and cool down or eat a packed lunch.
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A peacock observes his surroundings from a bench at the zoo. Groups of peacocks and other flightless birds roam the zoo grounds.
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A pygmy goat in the petting corral heads to the fence to get some treats from zoo visitors.
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Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary was originally a private ranch. The organization now rescues animals, rehabilitates them and displays them in an effort to educate the public.
AUSTIN Ė The Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary was my very first stop in exploring the central Texas region as the new leisure editor. As my navigation system directed me around Austin and then down quiet country roads, I wasnít sure I had copied down the address correctly. And then out of nowhere, a small sign for the zoo appeared. I made another turn onto an even smaller, quieter, gravel road and I was there.

The zoo is a pleasant surprise in the middle of farm country. As an animal lover, I was excited to find out that almost all of the animals in the exhibits were rescued. Before coming to the zoo, the animals were in circuses, laboratories or kept inappropriately as pets. The zoo does not purchase or sell any of the animals they have.

The zoo originally started as a private ranch. The owners, Jim and Cindy Carroccio, had some interest from the public in their small group of domestic farm animals and would sometimes host childrenís birthday parties at their home. But over the years, the number of animals at the ranch grew.

Some of the new animals were big, exotic cats and non-native birds that had been purchased as pets by owners who then found they didnít want, or no longer had the means, to care for them. In 1994, the zoo and rescue sanctuary was born and interest from the public grew. The Carroccio family continued to run the zoo until 2000 when they turned over ownership to a board of directors and the zoo became the nonprofit organization it is today.

The zoo is now home to more than 300 animals. Those animals represent over 100 different species, from the common to the exotic and rare.

Visitors to the zoo can see birds, monkeys, tortoises, lemers, wolves, bears, lions, tigers and a variety of domestic animals in the petting zoo. In the reptile house, visitors can get a close look at spiders, turtles, snakes and lizards in aquariums. Peacocks and roosters chase each other freely around the zoo grounds, delighting young visitors as they race past.

The zoo is smaller than most metropolitan zoos, but that certainly doesnít make it any less enjoyable. In fact, the size of the zoo is a large part of its charm. Itís the perfect size to spend a few quality hours with the family but not too large that you canít see half of the exhibits before the kids are worn out and ready to go.

The zoo enclosures are close to the paths, allowing the visitor to get an up close and personal look at the animals. Each enclosure also has a small, informational placard, listing helpful facts about the animal on display including its natural habitat, what it eats, and how long it lives. Occasionally, the information includes the personal story and names of the animals that call that particular enclosure home.

For families with children who like to get so close to the animals they can touch them, the petting corral gives ample opportunity for that. Visitors can buy a small bag of feed for the animals at the petting zoo front desk for only $1 and there are dozens of sheep, goats, llamas and deer that are more than happy to eat treat pellets from little hands.

One of the most exciting parts of the zoo for me were the large cat exhibits. As a child, I was always interested in the lions, tigers, leopards and cougars, and that interest clearly hasnít dimmed with age. The day I visited, the tigers were active, dipping in and out of their pool, batting around large plastic drums like over-sized house cats, wrestling with each other and eyeing every visitor walking along the shady bridge next to their enclosure.

The zoo has six Bengal tigers. The animals came to them over the years from a variety of places. Two of the tigers, Kali and Raj, are siblings. They came to the Austin Zoo in 1997 when they were about three months old after staff members at the zoo received a call from the Town Lake Animal Shelter near Austin.

Shelter staff informed the zoo they had two tiger cubs in their care that had been at a truck stop in the area. Someone at the truck stop had picked them up, concerned that they might be sold in the illegal animal trade and then dropped them off at the shelter. Head zookeeper Sara King said the tigers have made the zoo their home since that time and continue to thrive and delight visitors.

Other groups of animals at the zoo lived in dire conditions most of their lives. In the mid-1990s, the zoo welcomed a large group of the Capuchin monkeys that had been used in an animal study at a laboratory in Oregon. The monkeys had been kept in small cages and administered psychotropic drugs. Researchers then studied the effects the tranquilizers and hallucinogens had on the primates.

While many of the animals in that group have since passed away due to old age or the effects of the animal testing, five monkeys from the group are still at the zoo. King said the animals in their keep are given the best life possible and cared for by the staff members with dignity until the end of their days.

The staff at the zoo is passionate about their work and always willing to answer questions about the animals. Several upgrades to the zoo are planned for the near future, including a new run for the wolves and a primate enclosure with central heating and cooling.

If animals arenít enough for you, the zoo has some extra features that round out the package. Itís certainly an affordable way to spend an afternoon. The approximate cost of admission for a military family of four is slightly more than $20. The last time I was at a zoo in a major metropolitan area, the cost of admission for two adults and one child was almost double that price. There is a short train ride around the zoo and a small gift shop where visitors can purchase plush toys or books about animals. The zoo also has a large picnic area under a grove of shady trees, so families can purchase snacks from the concession stand or bring their lunches and watch the peacocks strut around.

The zoo has a quiet warmth and charm that I found enjoyable. For families looking for a low-key summer morning with their kids, itís a nearby destination thatís also affordable. And for those of us who are animal lovers Ė what could be better than seeing animals rescued from dire situations, rehabilitated and available to help educate the public? The Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary is an exotic oasis thatís close to home and sure to delight visitors of any age.


Phone: (512) 288-1490

Open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (No entry after 5 p.m.)


Children (ages 2-12) $5

Adults $8

Students, military and

seniors (with ID) $6

Member guest $5

Animal food (goats, sheep

and deer) $1
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