Exhibits new and old at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco will keep patrons of all ages dazzled and delighted
The Brazos River Country at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco takes the visitor on an adventure up the river valley from the Gulf Coast to the plains of the Texas Panhandle. Along the way the explorers pass the animals and the seven eco-zones they inhabit. The new exhibit opened this summer and has quickly become a major attraction at the park.
"We didn't want to do just the animals," says Duane McGregor, an official with the zoo. "We're covering 840 miles of history and ecology in a few acres." The journey begins as visitors enter into the faux hull of a Spanish galleon that holds a 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium featuring fish of the Gulf of Mexico.
If you look closely among the fish swimming around the tank, maybe you can pick out Boyd. The blue and yellow queen angelfish has become a celebrity since his colorful face has been splashed on billboards and other advertisements. "Look for him," McGregor says. "He's very recognizable."
From the aquarium, the pathway of discovery leads through the aviary where pelicans and gulls frolic on the sand dunes to the marsh where alligators sleep in the sun. One of the more unusual aspects of the tour is a small tunnel where smaller visitors can go "underground" and look through a window at 'gators lounging on the bottom of the pool.
A hallmark of the new exhibit is letting the animals get as close to humans as the quarter-inch-thick plastic windows. None of the animals seems to enjoy visitors as much as Baloo, the black bear. Still just an adolescent, Baloo tries to interact with people, McGregor says, while his mate, Donna, is a little more shy. Once prevalent throughout Texas, the black bear is not as aggressive as its grizzly cousin, but with paws the size of dinner plates, no one really wants to get a bear hug from Baloo.
The clear plastic also gives the shorter visitors a chance to swim with the otters. Kids line up for a chance to slide through a large tube that passes through the otters' tank, giving them a fish's view of the underwater world.
The path winds through the natural forest on the banks of the Brazos River past cages with an ocelot and a jaguar to a field where the buffalo roam. One of the most impressive exhibits on the trail is the freshwater aquarium building with a tank of river fish and an assortment of reptiles and insects. This will be as close as you'll want to get to a few of these specimen.
Take a peek into the nocturnal world of raccoons, armadillos, and opossums in the Night Building. The thin wire cage is barely visible in the dim light as the bats circle overhead or hang by their feet from the ceiling.
The Brazos River Country is the newest addition to a zoo that already had a wonderful collection of animals from around the world. Guests can visit with lemurs, gibbons, rhinos, elephants, lions, and tigers on their walk around the tree-shaded park. The Tree-Top Village takes visitors to eye level with the giraffes. The herpetarium exhibits snakes from around the world, including two of the largest species in the world.
The zoo was founded in 1955 as the Central Texas Zoological Park in Waco. "We're a true example of community effort," McGregor says. The city owns the land and helps operate the park, the Cameron Park Zoological and Botanical Society raises capital funds and maintains the animals, while the county helps with funding. The 52-acre Cameron Park Zoo opened in 1993 and in 2000 it began the expansion to highlight native species.
The Cameron Park Zoo opens Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday 11am to 5pm. The animals rest on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children more than 4 years of age, and $4.50 for children more than 60 years old. A $40 family membership allows the family an unlimited number of visits during the year. The park is about a mile west of I-35 at 1701 N. Fourth St. in Waco. For more information, call 254/750-8400 or go to www.cameronparkzoo.com.
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