A Fun Family Destination with a Purpose
Tucked away in the rustic hills of Somervell County, you will discover—and be enthralled by— giraffes, wildebeest, zebras and other endangered animals that freely roam amidst live oak thickets, limestone outcroppings and juniper-filled vistas. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, an 1,800-acre ranch located in Glen Rose, is a fun family destination right in our own backyard. Visitors drive through the nine-and-a-half mile road to enjoy and feed these magnificent creatures from their vehicle’s window.
But what Fossil Rim visitors may not fully realize is that their paid admission is not only a chance to see some exotic animals. They are helping to fulfill a strategic mission: to save endangered species. “We want people to come through and see the scenery and the animals and enjoy themselves,” says Fossil Rim’s chief operating officer, Kelly Snodgrass, “But we really want them to know that there’s a whole lot of other things going on…not only within the fences, but even outside of the fences in our associations and our partnerships with others.” Snodgrass, who has been employed at Fossil Rim 30 years, gushes with passion as he shares. “We eat, sleep and live our mission.”
The mission of Fossil Rim is “promoting the preservation and procreation of threatened/endangered species, environmental awareness, and a recreational and educational experience for people of all ages.”
The concern for species extinction began with Tom Mantzel, who purchased Waterfall Ranch, an exotic game ranch, in 1973, renaming it Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch. He continued adding to the exotic hoofstock that he found there. Mantzel’s concern over loss of wild habitat and species extinction compelled him to experiment in captive breeding at Fossil Rim. In 1982 he brought Grevy’s zebra to Fossil Rim as his initial commitment to propagate an endangered species.
After success with the Grevy’s zebra, Mantzel worked with other endangered animals such as the African addax, the African scimitar-horned oryx and cheetahs, one of Fossil Rim’s greatest propagation success stories with more than 150 cheetahs born at Fossil Rim.
The ranch became open to the public in 1984 to help fund the growing propagation programs and continued to flourish under new owners and philanthropists, Jim Jackson and Christine Jurzykowski.
Today, Fossil Rim is a non-profit organization and is one of six institutions dedicated to advancing endangered species conservation in a collaborative group known as C2S2 or Conservation Centers for Species Survival. The center also participates in a worldwide network of wildlife conservation organizations working to restore the delicate balance between people, animals, and the environment.
The most urgently needed propagation program at Fossil Rim is the nearly extinct Texas native Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken. Working in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fossil Rim’s involvement is vital to that species’ existence, although initially they began with very little knowledge. “With the Attwater program we didn’t just stick our toe into the water,” says Snodgrass. “Whether we knew anything about it or not, we just jumped in and we continue to grow and expand that program.”
The Attwater facility, located on the backside of Fossil Rim, is dedicated solely to breeding these birds with two dedicated full-time staff who have been with the program from the beginning. With 24-25 pairs of birds a year they are actively breeding, they pay close attention to the genetics involved. “I can’t even explain to you the intricacies of dealing with Attwater’s Prairie-Chickens,” says Snodgrass, shaking his head in amazement. “During production season, those two (staff) are there seven days a week, all hours of the day and night.” Three interns are brought in to help as well during this crucial time. Last year, 200 birds were released in a Texas coastal prairie refuge.
Although you can’t see the birds on the Scenic Wildlife Drive, during chick rearing season (May – August) the Behind-the-Scenes Tour goes into the hallway of the Prairie Grouse Chick Rearing Facility where the tour group can peek into windows and see chicks being cared for by the trained staff.
Fossil Rim employees can understandably get attached to individual animals and even give them names–especially the long-lived ones, like rhinos. But, another “name” is vital for propagation and healthy herds. “The more important thing is their studbook number,” shares Snodgrass. “That way you can manage the genetics of the population and it can be a global destination. We have some numbers attached to the cheetahs that mean something on an international scale.”
Come, drive through, take a guided tour, volunteer or stay in a “tent” safari-like cabin to help sustain this animal kingdom—and beyond. Kelly Snodgrass issues a personal invitation: “Enjoy it, take your time, go through, look deep and know that you’re supporting something that we certainly feel passionate about. Your support by coming has a much broader purpose and meaning.” www.fossilrim.org