Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is marking a milestone in 2014. For 30 years, the facility has invited guests to get up close and personal with efforts to conserve and protect wildlife and endangered species, while educating the public.
The sprawling 1,700-acre Somervell County ranch represents more than 50 species of native and non-native animals and has a storied history that takes it from a one-time private game ranch to a world-renowned wildlife conservation organization.
The area attraction is home to exotic animals like the ever-popular giraffe and endangered equids like the Grevy's and Hartmann's Mountain Zebra, as well as populations of antelopes and other hoofed herd animals, birds, carnivores and natives like the jackrabbit, armadillo, roadrunner, white-tailed deer and wild turkey. Guest are invited to tour the facility along the self-guided safari or by taking part in a number of special tours.
The facility, which continues to be the number one attraction for visitors to the local area, dates back to the 1970s, when Fort Worth businessman Tom Mantzel brought his passion for exotic animals to Somervell County. He purchased an exotic game ranch, renaming it Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch.
In 1982, Mantzel brought the Grevy's Zebra to the ranch in an effort to propagate the endangered species, and the ranch became the first of its kind to participate in a Species Survival Plan through the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
Success of the Grevy's Zebra plan opened the gates to other endangered animals, and their survival and public education remain the two-part mission of Fossil Rim.
"Fossil Rim's core business is wildlife conservation and conservation education," Dr. Pat Condy, executive director, said. "We don't keep wildlife on our 1,700-acre ranch just for fun. We put the animals to work to save their own species, by providing animals for reintroduction to the wild through national and international species recovery programs."
Mantzel opened the ranch to the public in 1984 to finance propagation programs. Thirty years later, admission fees and gift shop purchases continue to make those efforts possible, serving as the top revenue generators for the nonprofit organization.
"We finance all of this important work through tourism, so we continue to welcome the public to visit Fossil Rim and take our Scenic Wildlife Drive through the park, stay at our Lodge or Safari Camp or take one of the many guided tours we offer," Condy said. "Those activities allow us to continue and extend the wildlife conservation work we do within the United States and overseas."
The Red Wolf and Mexican Gray Wolf are again living in the wild in the southern United States. The Attwater's Prairie Chicken has been reintroduced into its native habitat along the Gulf Coast. And others like the Addax antelope - more have been born at Fossil Rim than exist in the wild today - and Scimitar-Horned Oryx have returned to thrive in their native sub-Saharan range in Tunisia, Africa.
Participation in the Attwater's Prairie Chicken survival plan continues to serve as the facility's major contribution to the conservation of native Texas species through a captive breeding program that began in 1992. The wildlife center is also one of the few institutions in North America that has produced more than 125 cheetah cubs.
The survival plans of more than 100 species include those of the well-known animals along the wildlife center's almost 10-mile scenic drive, such as the Addax, Addra Gazelle, Arabian Oryx, Bongo, Scimitar-Horned Oryx and White Rhinoceros. Existing in their private pastures across the property, which is nestled in the hills and along sometimes rugged and natural terrain, are also a number of animals in intensive management programs, including three species of wolf, cheetahs and the flagship Grevy's Zebra.
The success of the ranch is not only due to the animal-conscientious Mantzel. In 1987, struggles led Fossil Rim's founder to seek a business partner, and that journey led him to Jim Jackson and Christine Jurzykowski, who were also seeking a way to put their commitment to conservation into action. The association led them from partners in the ranch to outright ownership of the ranch, renaming it Fossil Rim Wildlife Center May 7, 1987.
The vision of the facility's founders is kept alive today by thousands of visitors who tour the facility each year, as well as a dedicated staff and slew of volunteers who share the desire to preserve, conserve and educate the public on the importance of animal-kind.