Texas Zoo, Victoria

Victoria's zoo includes only critters native to the state, many of them threatened or endangered. But the hundred or so different species represent a surprisingly diverse spectrum of the animal kingdom, and when I visited on a peaceful August weekday, the residents were all out and about, clearly enjoying the serenity temporarily afforded them by the first day of school. The indoor exhibits showcase dozens of birds and reptiles (housed separately, of course; otherwise the canebrake rattler would make short work of those precious screech owls). I giggled at the crested caracara—sort of a big, benign red-tailed hawk with a funny hairdo—but I hated to see the larger birds confined to cages too small for flying (or, in the case of the roadrunner, for sprinting). Outside, the majority of the exhibits are the classic moat-and-mountain combo, with waterfalls aplenty. I lingered at the habitats of a sleek, russet-furred jaguarundi and a quintet of racoonlike coatis.At the west end of the zoo are the red wolf and the peccaries, whose habitats are being renovated; they were damaged in 1998, when the nearby Guadalupe River overflowed its banks and inundated the zoo with six feet of water. A favorite predator on display is the American alligator; if you can swing a visit on a Tuesday at four—when the zoo feeds at least one of its animals publicly for the entertainment of visitors—you might get to see him chowing down on whole chickens (not to worry; they're precooked). Finally, the zoo's most populous species are strictly volunteer ones—turkey vultures and black vultures, which land by the score in pens and pits, helping themselves to water and food and generally stinking up the joint. Hey, zookeepers: Any way we can feed them to the gator? 110 Memorial Drive, Victoria; from U.S. 77, which becomes Moody Street, go west on Stayton for .8 mile into Riverside Park (361-573-7681; www.viptx.net/texaszoo). Open every day 9 to 5. Adults $2.50, children 3 to 12 $1.50, under 3 free. Limited wheelchair accessibility.

Tags: TRAVEL

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