Day Trips

At the Austin Zoo, all of the kids seem to have a good time. As you might expect from a zoo in Austin, the Austin Zoo is not exactly what the name implies.

"When people hear the name, they think that it's a municipal zoo, which it's not," says Austin Zoo owner Cindy Carroccio. "When they hear the name, people think it's huge, which it's not." Originally called Good Day Ranch, Austin Zoo is nothing like a big city zoo. It is more like having an aunt and uncle who let you come out and play at their exotic animal ranch.

The Carroccios began building the zoo in 1990 on a rugged piece of Hill Country land off US290, west of Austin. In 1991, they opened their doors with a menagerie of animals. Since then, the number of visitors has been steadily increasing, and the collection of animals continues to grow.

"All zoos are children's zoos," according to Cindy. "We're kind of a training-wheels zoo." Unlike large municipal zoos, the Austin Zoo is much more interactive. After passing through the main entrance, the first animal you meet is a big shaggy farm dog who seems oblivious to the people.

Of course, some of the animals, like the iguana, monkeys, and wallabies, must be kept separate for the protection of everyone. Yet even these animals are maintained at a minimum distance from the visitors. On the other hand, where else could you feed and pet a large antelope?

The zoo is about evenly divided between native and exotic animals. The barnyard area, which retains the name "Good Day Ranch," is a collection of farm animals. The herd of goats and sheep were the original animals at the Carroccio's farm. Most of the animals in the petting corral have been raised by hand.

Children of all ages get to see the total experience of the animal kingdom. From birthing to milking, as much as possible, very few of the animal caretaking tasks are done behind the scenes. "We picked animals that are hardy and have low stress levels," Cindy said of her

hands-on zoo.

"We started [building the zoo] with the smaller animals, learning from the ground up," says Cindy. The Carroccios opened Good Day Ranch with only the animals they could afford to support by themselves. They have taken on more primates than they originally had intended, largely because institutions are running out of space for monkeys. Their first primate, a Pata monkey named Mable, started out as a purchase and became a rescue from a disreputable dealer. A primate rescue organization in Kentucky gave them Grey and Annie, whose mother died when she was three months old. Following that, Annie broke her arm. The Carroccios have also added Juliet and Damion.

Three of the U.S. total of 200 surviving New Guinea Singing Dogs reside at the Austin Zoo: Roger, Tilley, and Mindy. The dogs are nearing endangered status in the wild. Natives of the East Indian rainforests, they are similar to the dingoes of Australia and sound like coyotes. The dogs have double-jointed necks and are very good hunters - as a nest of grackles in their pen found out belatedly.

One of the goals of the zoo is to participate in the Species Survival Plan to create a worldwide herd of endangered animals in captivity. The Carroccios have 100 acres of Hill Country land that could give a home to surplus stock from zoos.

You can read to small children and show them pictures of animals, but until they put their hands on some furry creature that spark won't go off, believes Cindy. "We may be kind of hokey, but that's part of our charm."

From the stroller-set on up, everyone seems to have a good time petting and feeding the animals or just watching critters. To get to the Austin Zoo, take US290 west to the light at Circle Drive, go 1.5 miles to Rawhide Trail, make a right and go one mile. The zoo is open daily from 10am-6pm. The friendly staff welcomes groups, parties, and picnics. For information, call 288-1490.

Coming up this weekend...

Half Moon Holidays in Shiner offer a day of games and food topped off with fireworks at Green-Dickson Park, July 1. 512/594-3327.

Independence Festival in Taylor brings the carnival, magic show, music, and fireworks to Murphy Park, July 1-4. 512/352-6364.

Coming up...

Cowboy Capital Rodeo happens every Tuesday evening thru the summer at Mansfield Park in Bandera. 800/364-3833.

Summer Sounds Concerts in Waco uses the lighted historic suspension bridge in Indian Spring Park as a concert backdrop on Thursday evenings thru July. 800/922-6386. - Gerald E. McLeod

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