PILOT POINT — Amanda Reyes cradles a newborn red kangaroo in her arms as she sits in a shaded area at Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch. The newborn clings to Reyes, who works at the ranch as an intern.
Reyes has only worked at the ranch for a little more than a week, but she said it already is one of the best experiences she’s had as a college student.
“This is more than what I hoped for,” she said.
Reyes, an Oklahoma State University zoology junior, works a typical 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift. But even on her days off, she said, she cannot stay away from work.
“It’s awesome here and exactly what I’ve been looking for,” she said.
Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch is a nonprofit, 126-acre ranch licensed and regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Officials say their Pilot Point ranch offers patrons an experience that’s more interactive with animals than the zoos in Fort Worth and Dallas.
It’s home to rare and exotic animals including black bears, kangaroos, bobcats, zebras, camels, lemurs, an albino cobra and an albino kangaroo.
“When you come here, you’re a lot closer to the animals,” said Cassidy Jagger, director of operations. “At a zoo, you are so far from the animals and there is little to no interaction.”
Though patrons won’t get to cradle baby kangaroos like Reyes, officials promise an experience that’s almost as intimate.
“You get to know our animals, not just look at them and forget about them,” Jagger said. “Our caretakers put on programs that allow you to learn about each one.”
The ranch, which is open from March through November, has a petting zoo and offers a 40-minute tram ride through pastures where camels, zebras, emus and endangered deer roam.
All of the animals were either born at the ranch or rescued. At any one time, the ranch has roughly 130 animals.
The ranch officially opened in 2005 and continues to grow, said owner Scott Edwards.
Edwards, a former construction worker, said he always has been fascinated by exotic animals. So when he got the opportunity to open the ranch, he jumped at it.
“I would like to save as many animals as I can,” he said.
The newest addition to the ranch, which Edwards said will help keep his mission moving forward, is a new restaurant, the Bears Den.
The restaurant has a full bar and specializes in brick oven pizza. But officials say the restaurant’s main draws are the ranch’s two 400-pound black bears, Barnaby and Bailey, who were rescued when they were about 6 weeks old.
The bears’ enclosed habitat is only 5 feet from the deck of the restaurant, and they’re fed at dinner time, so people can eat with the bears.
“It’s an opportunity that you can’t get or see anywhere else,” he said.
The restaurant is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. To make reservations or view the menu, visit www.bearsdentexas.com.
Part of the proceeds from the Bears Den will be used to help rescue animals across the country, Edwards said.
The restaurant can seat 180 people, and officials are hoping to add another 120 seats.
“We’re always planning years in advance,” Edwards said. “This restaurant was planned about two years ago, so that shows how far out we plan. Once we’ve made improvements, we’re already working on the next project.”
Ranch officials also hope to raise enough money to add a habitat for a lion they rescued awhile back. The lion is currently living at another facility.
Other ongoing projects include construction of new habitats, expansion of habitats, expansion of buildings and breeding programs for endangered and rare species.
“Donations are tax-deductible and they go right back into our ranch, programs and animals,” Edwards said.
Edwards said the ranch’s primary mission is to protect endangered animals and provide a place for North Texans to learn about animals they don’t normally see.
Monday through Friday, the ranch is open only to schools and for special programs. The ranch is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
“We would like to expand our days and hours, but we’re not big enough just yet,” Edwards said. “We have about 126 acres to fill, and we’ll get there.”
For more information about the ranch, call 940-686-4600 or visit www.sharkarosa.com.
JOHN HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.