North Texas Daily

Wildlife ranch gives exotic animals refuge

Wildlife ranch gives exotic animals refuge

July 13
11:24 2012

Pablo Arauz / Staff Writer

PILOT POINT (Texas) – North Texas residents may be more familiar with the opossums, cats and raccoons that call Denton home than the zebras, bearcats and camels at Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch.

About 20 miles northeast of the Square, nestled in the countryside by Ray Roberts Lake, the 126-acre ranch is home to more than 200 animals from 25 different species, many of them endangered.

A pair of colorful Central American macaw parrots greet visitors at the ranch’s entrance, and a napping bearcat snoozes nearby. Farther down the path, a capuchin monkey, an African-crested porcupine and several types of lemurs lounge about.

Zippy, the 9-month-old joey, is nestled in C.J. Peterson’s lap during a meet and greet. Photo by Amber Plumley / Senior Staff Photographer

Scott Edwards, owner and operator of Sharkarosa, said that keeping so many different animals healthy and happy could be a challenge, but that the ranch – one of the highest-ranked non-profit facilities in Texas licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – was up to the task.

“We do a good job of taking care of the animals and specialize in some of the most endangered animals in the area,” he said.

Maintaining a wildlife ranch

Edwards designed and built the ranch in 2003, primarily to breed and train animals. In 2005, he obtained a non-profit 501(c)(3) license as well as a USDA license to hold exotic animals for display. At that point, the ranch opened to the public and began running an educational program with certified schoolteachers and animal experts. Edwards said Sharkarosa functions as a rescue center, an educational facility and a theme park.

“Our goal here is to breed and raise rare and endangered animals and be very interactive so people can touch, and feel, and get close to animals,” Edwards said. “At the same time [we] provide the animals we breed here to zoos and facilities all over the world.”

Sharkarosa’s Director of Operations Cassidy Jagger said that because the ranch is a non-profit, it raises funds through donations and patron visits, making admission affordable for both families and college students.

The ranch uses volunteers, who must be willing to learn about the animals and guide patrons.
Jagger said the health and safety of animals on the ranch is a priority.

“We clean the animals, we feed them, we nurse them back to health, we find homes for those that can’t stay here,” she said. “Being a non-profit, it’s very, very difficult to raise funds for donations.”

A journey for all ages

The ranch opens its doors to the public on Saturdays and Sundays. Once inside, visitors are free to observe a zoo with small animals such as birds, primates, and snakes. Guests are then given a safari-style tour where they encounter herds of four-legged mammals.

The tour’s first stop is on grassland, where a family of zebras and their half-brothers the zorses and zonkeys – mixed breeds of horses, zebras and donkeys – roam the prairie.

A group of various species of deer, including the rare Père David Deer, sit peacefully at the far end of the ranch. The Père David Deer species originates from China, and is technically extinct in the wild. Sharkarosa is one of the only places in the world to see its kind.

Chad Lussier, a volunteer at the ranch, drives the tour tram and supplies guests with information about the animals.
“Most of the animals were born here,” Lussier said. “The herds are growing pretty vastly back here as far as the deer, so stuff is constantly thriving.”
On the tour’s last stop, a herd of dromedary camels from Southern India don’t hesitate to get up close and personal. The playful camels are keen on taking food from the container on the tram.

The rescue effort

Many animals at the ranch are rescued from previous owners who couldn’t properly care for them, Lussier said.

Barnaby and Bailey are two black bear cubs that were rescued from negligent owners.

An entertainment business would take the two-and-a-half-year-old cubs to supermalls and schools for sideshows and public displays.

It’s illegal to privately own a black bear in Texas without a certificate of registration. So when the former owners were going to put them down, Sharkarosa raised $55,000 to keep the bears. They are now set to live at the ranch permanently.

“When we got them, it was really bad – they were in crates, and they had urine scalding,” Lussier said. “So it’s cool to see how much they’ve turned around.”

Edwards said the ranch and other organizations contribute to the rescue and preservation of endangered species, but there’s only so much that can be done.

“The problem is not the animals that are becoming extinct, it’s their habitats,” Edwards said. “The longer that we live and thrive as man, the less and less room there will be left for the animals. So at least if you can’t see the animals in the wild, you’ll have the opportunity to see them up close.”

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