To see some of the world's most impressive wild animals, many people travel to Africa and go on a safari. But people in Texas can find some of these exotic animals close to home, not just in zoos, but in special sanctuaries set up to help the animals survive and live in relatively open areas much as they would in the wild. In this report, VOA's Greg Flakus takes us on a Texas safari.
The king of beasts feels right at home at the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary northwest of Fort Worth. Here, animals are not confined to small cages, but have plenty of room to move around.
This non-profit organization for big, fearsome creatures is directed by Richard Gilbreth. "It is a mutual respect between us and them. Everything we do is based on safety. That is the first and foremost deal out here is safety for us and also for the animals," he says.
Many of these animals were abused or abandoned before finding shelter here. Gilbreth says there is a great need to help such creatures, but his non-profit facility can only do so much.
"If we cannot provide them a quality of life, I do not take the animal in. That is the reason we only have 63 cats and seven bears at the moment. If I took in everything that I got a phone call for I would have 500 animals in a year and then we could not provide for them."
A couple of hours drive south from the sanctuary is another chunk of Texas prairie devoted to exotic animals.
At the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, visitors can drive through and even feed some of the animals.
Jan Bussey, who has worked here since the mid-1980s, says many of the animals from Africa feel right at home here in Texas. "We can give them very similar climate. A number of people that come here who have been to Africa say our land looks a lot like what they saw. But we can get them away from the strife, the wars, and into a safe location for breeding," she explains.
At Fossil Rim, such animals as the cheetah and rhinoceros are kept in special enclosures and bred in an effort to keep their species healthy and ensure their survival.
Some are reintroduced in their native lands, but Jan Bussey says zoos also rely on Fossil Rim for animals that otherwise might be hard to come by. "So they can come here, where we can do some good breeding, and get animals to use for educating the public without having to go back to the wild and get an already endangered resource."
The animals from Africa and other faraway places share this area with some at-home Texas critters, like deer, who just happened to be in these hills long before the park was established. But the animals all get along fine here, not feeling exotic at all in their Texas home.