As you walk past the main entrance of the Texas Zoo, an animal might greet you along with a zoo employee.

Or Nova the Eurasian lynx might play hide-and-seek with you from behind the windows of the wildlife encounters room.

“We are starting to include more animal encounters as visitors walk in so that people can have an interaction with an animal right off the bat,” said Liz Jensen, executive director of the Texas Zoo.

The Texas Zoo might look a little different to those who haven’t visited in a few years. After Hurricane Harvey, rains flooded the zoo, forcing the park to close down for a few months so employees and community members could clean and rebuild the park.

Though physically the zoo hasn’t changed much, there are now more programs and opportunities for visitors to interact with wildlife.

Visitors can now interact with several animals at an additional cost. Included in wildlife interactions is a chance to meet Bright Eyes, the red ruffed lemur; Nova, a Eurasian lynx; D9 and Flo, black bears; jaX and Sophia, jaguars; a white nosed coati; and a striped skunk.

Some of the encounters, such as with the black bears, allow visitors to be able to feed the animals, while encounters with others may mean an opportunity to pet the animal, such as the case with Nova, who loves to play and snuggle, Jensen said.

Another opportunity for animal interaction is the petting zoo, where visitors can feed emus and goats of all sizes.

“Our belief, and hope, is that people interact with the animals and make a connection. Hopefully, that connection will inspire people to want to protect animals also,” Jensen said.

Maynie Davis, of Victoria, was visiting the zoo one day in the summer with her two grandchildren, Riley Hill and Braylon Davis, and decided to stop by the petting zoo.

“They’re so cute,” Riley, 9, said as a black goat sneezed. “Bless you!”

Davis said years have passed since the last time she visited the zoo. She loves how visitors, especially children, have more opportunities to connect with animals.

“I think it was a great idea for the zoo to have opportunities like this because it gives kids an idea of how animals eat and what they’re really like,” Davis said.

The zoo also offers educational and outreach programs. Several animals, such as Zazu the macaw, serve as wildlife ambassadors and travel with zoo employees to schools and events to help educate the Crossroads community about wildlife and the importance of conservation.

Those who plan to visit the Crossroads during the summer, winter and spring break months should check with the zoo about weeklong educational opportunities for children.

Amber Aldaco reports on education for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at aaldaco@vicad.com or 361-580-6303.

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Education Reporter

Amber Aldaco is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She's covered various events in the Crossroads including a zoo rescue, a biker funeral and a state meeting with the governor. She enjoys singing with her significant other.

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