Visitors to the Texas Zoo are often greeted by an animal as well as a friendly zoo employee.
Some people are greeted by Nova the Eurasian lynx, who likes to play hide-and-seek with visitors from behind the windows of the wildlife encounters room. The zoo staff purposely have animal encounters as visitors walk in so that they can have an interaction with an animal right off the bat, said Liz Jensen, executive director of the Texas Zoo.
The Texas Zoo offers a variety of programs and opportunities for visitors to interact with wildlife. Because about 95% of the zoo’s attractions are outdoors, Jensen said, it’s a safe place for people to visit safely even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don’t have huge crowds like at a large zoo, so it makes it easy for families or small groups to come and safely social distance,” she said. “It’s a great place to get out of the house and interact with wildlife safely.”
Visitors to the Texas Zoo can interact with several animals at an additional cost. Some of the encounters, such as with the black bears, allow visitors to be able to feed the animals. Another opportunity for animal interaction is the petting zoo, where visitors can feed emus and goats of all sizes.
Staff at the zoo make it a priority to help visitors connect with nature on a more intimate level, and leave their visit knowing they can explore the nature and wildlife that’s all around them. Once walking out of the zoo, people are right in Victoria's Riverside Park, where they can easily explore different nature paths and connect with wildlife, Jensen said.
“There’s a disconnect between what you see in a zoo or an aquarium and knowing what’s really in your backyard, and there’s lots of wildlife here in Riverside Park,” she said. “It’s important for us to help bridge that gap.”
Maynie Davis, of Victoria, was visiting the zoo one day with her two grandchildren. She said years had passed since the last time she visited the zoo. She loves how visitors, especially children, have more opportunities to connect with animals, which is intentional on the zoo's part.
“We’re hoping that the zoo becomes a greater resource in the community of Victoria,” Jensen said.
Advocate reporter Morgan Theophil contributed to this story.