WACO, Texas — The zoo is a favorite destination for all ages. And the heart of Texas boasts one of the premier zoos in the nation. We visited the banks of the Brazos and the Cameron Park Zoo which is known as "The Happiest Surprise in Texas!"
It began in the mid-1950s with a small collection of animals housed near the airport. But in 1993 when it moved to the scenic and lush Cameron Park. Waco’s natural habitat zoo has become an award-winning favorite destination. And it's still growing.
“We have a lot of new, exciting things that we will be showing our guests in just a few years," said Johnny Binder, Cameron Park Zoo director.
In his 45 years with the Cameron Park Zoo, Binder has seen a lot of change. But a big addition on the way is the new South African penguin exhibit.
“You can probably see a pile of dirt over my right shoulder back there. And that's the future home for a colony of 30 to 40 South African penguins," said Binder. "South Africa has a climate very similar to ours here in Central Texas. So, we feel the penguins will be very much at home.”
The Cameron Park Zoo has added attractions from Gibbon Island to the African Lion exhibit and Reptile House. The Brazos River Country exhibit and the Asian Forest exhibit. And most recently, a new concrete building is replacing a 1993 wooden structure for the African Hoofed collection and some of the big birds.
“This will be the home for our greater Kudu antelope, which currently are on loan to the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose," said Binder.
Also in the long-range plan, a new education building and veterinary facility.
“Now we have 1800 animals. And so, it's time to provide our veterinarian with a modern state-of-the-art hospital," said Binder.
Education Curator Connie Kastner is excited about the new education facility. She oversees the animal ambassadors who take the zoo to the public-- like Arthur the guinea pig who was acting a bit sassy.
“We'll go to nursing homes, we'll go to libraries, we'll go to schools. And also, those people will come here," said Kastner. "And then we can introduce them to animals and let them get up close and personal.”
Speaking of education, Terri Cox, Executive Director of the Zoological and Botanical Society, tells us the zoo’s orangutans are part of a project that’s on the cutting edge of cardiac care. They’re the only ones in the world trained to do voluntary blood draws, blood pressure checks and other cardio tests.
“It's important that we get these things voluntarily because as you know if you're sedated when they take your blood pressure, it's not the same as when you are awake," said Cox.
Primate Keeper Jordan Roberts shows us how they train the orangutans to cooperate with these necessary cardiac tests.
“We're going to take something like our hands are on the mesh so I can capture that and give her a reinforcer for it. And then we can shape that into more and more complex things," said Roberts. "We can then incorporate the use of a blood pressure cuff and they can put their arms through wherever we are asking them to so we can get their blood pressure. If I ask her for her chest, then we can use an ultrasound machine to look at her heart and monitor her heart health.”
Important for the health of the ape, and the safety of the humans caring for them.
“It's really important that we have the caging system because a male orangutan has the strength of about eight NFL football players and a female of about five," said Cox.
The Cameron Park Zoo offers two great ape cardiac care workshops for other zoo professionals so they can get hands-on experience and take that important knowledge back to their zoos. There’s so much to appreciate about the Cameron Park Zoo—due in large part to a supportive community:
“My favorite aspect, number one, is the community support that we enjoy. And that's why we've been able to be so successful in adding to the zoo and continuing to plan for the future," said Binder.
And if you're looking for an upcoming opportunity to support the zoo, "KidZoobilee" will be happening Saturday, May 7, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
The Cameron Park Zoo is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday thru Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sundays.
Check out their website for more information on upcoming events.