Cameron Park Zoo, Waco
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If Waco’s zoo were a book of the Bible, it would be Revelation. The famously Baptist town is home to a large and handsome zoo, one that deserves the full name “zoological park.” Covering 52 acres along the Brazos River, the Cameron Park Zoo was relocated and renovated—transformed, really—in 1993, and the result is a happy home for creatures great and small. The zoo’s spacious entry plaza leads directly to the gibbon habitat, a fun-looking mini-mountain full of hide-and-seek possibilities. It is fronted by a creeklet off the Brazos, where black swans glide by in elegant synchronicity. The wide sidewalks lead on past the king vultures, a species the zoo excels in breeding. Across the way is a play area with a Swiss Family Robinson-style tree house and a tunnel painted to resemble a giant boa constrictor. Next is the herpetarium, which offers a real boa and many other reptiles, some of which share habitats (the alligators hang out, appropriately enough, with alligator snapping turtles). A bit farther is the residence of giraffes Jenny, Jeffrey, Julie, and eight-month-old Millie (short for Millennium), who obligingly stayed outside long enough to give me an up-close-and-personal view. Standing on the deck outside their pen, I took in the zoo’s stunning vista of greater kudus, rhinos, and elephants, a panorama that suggests a particularly social slice of the African savanna. Also parading around, unfazed by all the dangerously large hooves, were goofy-looking marabou storks; wings outspread, they appeared to be auditioning for the Ministry of Silly Walks. The exhibits end with the ever-popular big cats, a lion and lioness and a Sumatran tiger. An interactive exhibit for kids, one of many here, provided a button that simulated a lion’s roar, and a succession of determined toddlers gave it a thorough workout.
One major animal seemed to be missing: Where were the bears? Then I remembered: This is Waco, home of Baylor University; the bear pit can be found on campus, just east of the interstate in the 1300 block of South Fifth. Here mascots Billy and Chance, two American black bears, make their home. While Billy ignored all the humans and opted for a snooze in the shade, Chance chewed happily on a ladder and hit himself in the head with it only once. 1701 N. Fourth Street, Waco (approximately one mile west of Interstate 35); 254-750-8400; www.waco-texas.com/lev2.cfm/15. Open Monday through Saturday 9 to 5, Sunday 11 to 5. Adults $4, children 4 to 12 $2, under 4 free. Wheelchair accessible.