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Early kudu birth alters Cameron Park Zoo plans as county approves first phase of expansion

Early kudu birth alters Cameron Park Zoo plans as county approves first phase of expansion


A rendering shows plans for the zoo’s new hoofstock barn. Rather than spend an estimated $375,000 remodeling the zoo’s existing barn, officials have decided to build a new, larger barn for an estimated $270,000 to $290,000.

Moving kudu from Cameron Park Zoo to Fossil Rim Wildlife Park in Glen Rose has hit a 39-pound snag. A premature baby born Saturday scuttled plans to move the herd north while work starts on a small part of a $14.5 million zoo upgrade.

The good news is the little fellow is doing fine, nursing and growing stronger. He and his family could make the trip in a couple of months.

Greater kudu, an African antelope, populate the zoo’s hoofstock barn, a 27-year-old wooden structure showing its age. Using bonds county taxpayers approved a year ago, crews will demolish the building and replace it with a more than quarter-million-dollar modern version featuring more stalls, height-adjustable gates and designated areas to quarantine sick, pregnant or newly arriving animals.

McLennan County commissioners approved construction plans for the hoofstock barn Tuesday, and Cameron Park Zoo Director Chris Vanskike said the city of Waco may start taking bids by Dec. 1 and award a contract for the seven-month job in February. The city is overseeing the process, but an interlocal agreement for the county-issued bond allows commissioners to sign off on each phase.

The estimated $14.5 million package includes a veterinary and education complex, a black-footed penguin exhibit and a commissary upgrade. The projected completion has been pushed from spring to fall 2022.

“We’re working feverishly to catch up. We have a good team that works well together,” said Teri Cox, executive director of the Cameron Park Zoological and Botanical Society, who attended the commissioners’ Zoom meeting.


Plans for the zoo's new $270,000 hoofstock barn, seen here in a conceptual rendering, call for more stalls than the existing barn, including quarantine stalls for animals that are sick, pregnant, newborn or new to the zoo.

Original estimates said remodeling the existing hoofstock barn would cost about $375,000. But Vanskike said additional study by Alliance Architecture suggested taxpayers would be better served by leveling the existing building and starting from scratch, a move reducing the base bid to $267,879. The bid package now includes the additional options of chain-link fencing and rubber flooring bringing the estimate to $286,725. Commissioners received a detailed breakdown.

The cost estimates could change during the bid process.

Cox said officials are taking a multi-phase approach to bidding out the zoo project to give subcontractors large and small an opportunity to participate. McLennan County took a similar approach to erecting the more than $30 million Extraco Events Center expansion at Bosque Boulevard and Lake Air Drive, which is scheduled for completion in spring of next year.

The city is moving toward naming a general contractor to oversee the venture. John W. Erwin General Contractor Inc. carries that title on the Extraco job.

Zoo Deputy Director Johnny Binder said the zoo made arrangements to relocate its seven greater kudu to Fossil Rim Wildlife Park in Glen Rose while work proceeds on the hoofstock barn. That trip by trailer was scheduled this month, but the timetable has been jeopardized with the new arrival, Binder said.

On Sunday, a pregnant female the zoo staff thought would deliver in December, as her history suggested, gave birth prematurely. The male greater kudu is doing fine, nursing and gaining strength, but a trek to Glen Rose has been postponed indefinitely, probably a couple of months, he said.

Binder said he was heartened that the hoofstock barn may materialize at a reduced cost, saying the savings might be applied to the veterinary and education facility, which is expected to cost $8.5 million.

“We certainly need a larger veterinary hospital, a larger place for our full-time veterinarian and our vet tech to work,” Binder said. “Texas A&M does rounds with us, which is beneficial to us and to their class, which gets to learn more about exotic animals. We’ve taken a few animals down there.”

Binder recalled an African lion, now deceased, that traveled to Aggieland for an MRI of her spine. She suffered from a congenital anomaly common to her family, and she struggled to move her rear legs. Surgeons at Texas A&M operated on her spine.

“She later had cubs, and lived to a nice old age,” Binder said.

The zoo did not have an MRI machine large enough for an African lion, but the new veterinary center and its diagnostic equipment may remedy that problem, he said.

“This was the perfect time to pass a bond issue, considering our increased attendance and animal collection,” Binder said.

The zoo has about 1,600 animals, compared with fewer than 100 when it opened in 1993.

Since reopening after a COVID-19-induced shutdown, the zoo is attracting crowds larger than those in the same months last year, Vanskike said.

“We’re seeing 20,000 to 25,000 guests monthly,” he said. “I was just out in the zoo, talking with people, and a lot of folks are from the local area, which we love. We have 52 acres of natural habitat. It’s safe, people can roam and keep track of each other. They see our guys cleaning every hour.

“I tell them to come back when our penguin exhibit opens.”

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