Day Trips

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, outside of Glen Rose, seems to get better with age

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. McLeod

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, outside of Glen Rose, Texas, seems to get better with age. Even though some of the facilities seem a little frayed around the edges, the animals have adapted very well to their ark on the Texas plains. What makes many of the residents extra-special is their membership in the worldwide herd as part of the Species Survival Plan.

Every time I visit the open fields of Fossil Rim, I'm amazed at the natural beauty of animals with space to be free. What a memorable event it is to see a herd of Thomson's gazelles running across a field turn on a dime in unison like a flock of birds. Or to watch the natural ballet of two young long-horned blackbuck antelope race each other through the tall grass around the gnarly oak and juniper trees. All from the comfort of your automobile.

Fossil Rim began in the early 1970s as an exotic wildlife ranch owned by Fort Worth oilman Tom Mantzel. The ranch became the first private entity to participate in the captive breeding program for endangered species of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums – now the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

By 1984, a downturn in the economy forced Mantzel to open the scenic ranch to paying visitors. This allowed him to continue work on the breeding of Grevy's zebra, African addax, blackbuck antelope, and reticulated giraffe. The ranch has built one of the oldest and largest gene pools for endangered cheetahs since the inception of their captive breeding program in 1986.

Despite Mantzel's successes with wildlife breeding programs, the ranch was on the verge of financial collapse by 1987. Facing imminent foreclosure, Mantzel sold the ranch to Jim Jackson and Christine Jurzykowski. The couple turned the ranch into a major tourist attraction and conservation program with more than 1,100 animals representing more than 60 species.

All those cars driving the single-lane road across the rugged terrain are actually contributing to saving endangered species. Years ago, before she retired and turned the operation of the park over to the board of directors, Jurzykowski told me: "It's unfortunate that zoos and wildlife parks like this have to exist, but the fact of the matter is that without captive-breeding programs like ours, some of these species would have already disappeared in wild. Our hope is to one day have herds of these animals reintroduced to their native lands."

You would have to travel around the world to see all of the animals that call Fossil Rim home. There are guanaco, llamalike creatures from the mountains of southern Peru; one of the largest herds in the world of wildebeest; and the hundreds of graceful axis deer from Southeast Asia.

The wildlife center continues to do groundbreaking research in captive-breeding programs of endangered and threatened animals like the southern black rhino from Zimbabwe and the maned wolf of South America. North American species being protected include the red wolf, Mexican gray wolf, and coati.

One of the greatest successes at the center has been the breeding of the Attwater's prairie chicken. The native Texan grouse once numbered in the millions along the Gulf Coast until habitat loss and hunting decimated their numbers to near extinction. Every year, the center releases young birds at a national wildlife refuge outside of Eagle Lake near Houston.

To see the rarest of the animals in the breeding program, you have to take the Behind the Scenes Tour, which is separate from the driving tour. This is one of several ways that you can get extra value from a visit to the park. You can even spend the night among the animals in the luxury lodge or in a faux tent at the Safari Camp.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is three miles west of Glen Rose off U.S. 67. During the summer, visitors are admitted between 8:30am and 5:30pm. The two-hour drive costs $22.95 for adults and $16.95 for children on weekends, $20.95 and $13.95 on weekdays, and $12.50 and $5 on Wednesdays. For more information, call 254/897-2960 or go to

For information about other fun things to do in the Glen Rose area, call the local Chamber of Commerce at 254/897-3081 or point your browser to

884th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Glen Rose, Attwater's prairie chicken

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