A few audible “eew” sounds could be heard from the younger children in the audience as Jeff Oliver reached into the blue plastic tub on the small stage and pulled out the star of the show, Coby, an albino Monaco cobra.
“He would normally be a brown or a black with white spots on him,” Oliver told the crowd as the snake slithered around in his hands.
The presentation continued with Oliver giving fun facts about the snake and interacting with the crowd by asking questions. He also got the cobra to show its hood by prompting the snake to go through the actions it takes to turn away potential predators.
Coby is just one of the attractions for visitors at Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch.
Located in Pilot Point, the 126-acre park offers field trips, private tours and parties. It also opens its doors to the public on weekends, so visitors can learn about and interact with interesting, exotic and, in some cases, extinct animals.
“We’re a little different from regular zoos because what we do is we have more interaction,” said Scott Edwards, owner of the ranch.
Instead of just walking through an exhibit and reading about a species and then trying to find it in the exhibit, visitors to the ranch can get up close with the animals.
The idea of Sharkarosa Ranch came about in the early 2000s, Edwards said.
“The ranch was originally just for our family and my employees’ family. In 2003, since we already had animals, we decided we would do programs for the public,” he said. “We thought it would be fun to invite people out, have birthday parties and things like that.”
The idea has snowballed through the years, Edwards said.
“You can put an animal in a 2-year-old’s hands or an 80-year-old’s hands and get the same reaction,” he said. “There is nothing that goes across every demographic more than animals.”
In 2005, Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch officially opened to the public as a nonprofit.
Since then, the ranch has done education programs for home-school students and private and public schools, Edwards said. It’s open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.
He sees the ranch’s purpose as an entry-level zoo.
“We get people interested in the animals,” he said. “It takes a park like us, where adults and children can interact with the animals and get that enthusiasm built up. What we see is a lot of times, people that come here then start going to zoos and other wildlife parks.”
Among the animals inhabiting the ranch are bobcats, numerous species of deer, horses, camels, a kangaroo, monkeys and a pot-bellied pig. Many of the animals can be seen on the ranch’s Safari Tram ride.
“Here, we bring the animals out and show them up close,” said Alexis Fitch, director of animal care. “They can pet [for example] a baby lemur and ask the questions and see what it really does.
“I love the enrichment with the animals and the education for the kids, when the kids come out during the week.”
Future plans for the ranch include adding a 200-seat restaurant and working with the Discovery Channel on a new show filming in Dallas. The plan is to do an episode in which the ranch would be selling off a safari-decorated car with proceeds going toward the rescue of an African male lion and two spotted hyenas, and building a habitat for them at the ranch.
“We’re going to help protect as many animals as we can, and we’re going to introduce you to some animals that have completely lost their home and are extinct in the wild,” Edwards said of the ranch’s mission. “Hopefully, that will awaken a child or someone who can make a difference, who will treat out environment and our ecology a little bit differently in the future.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
SHARKAROSA WILDLIFE RANCH
Address: 11670 Massey Road in Pilot Point
Hours: The ranch is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays during March through November. Gates open at 10 a.m., and the last Safari Tram leaves at 4 p.m.
Tickets: $10 for ages 13 and older, $8 for children ages 3-12 and seniors 65 and older, and free for ages 2 and younger.