Get a Taste of Safari in the States at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center

At Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, sleep under Texas stars, feed the residents of the animal sanctuary, and witness the progeny of a cheetah-breeding program.


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Fossil Rim Wildlife Sanctuary gives visitors the flavor of Africa in a Texas setting.

Photo by David Overbeck

Night rolls in and blankets the shrub-covered hillsides in a soft shade of gray. The moon peeks out from behind a cover of clouds, and an owl hoots into the gathering dark. As you step outside your tented cabin, you hear wolves howling far away. Sinking into a wooden deck chair, you raise a glass and toast the tranquility that envelops you.

Then, after a peaceful night’s sleep on one of your tent’s twin-size mattresses, you emerge into the early-morning mist to find African gemsbock and desert addax grazing at the watering hole right in front of the camp.

 For those of us who long to take an African safari but can’t swing the time, distance, or cost, spending a few days in a safari camp at a Texas animal sanctuary is a more-than-satisfying substitute. Home to 22 species of hoofstock (including wildebeest, Przewalski’s horse, and endangered southern black and southern white rhinos), five bird species (including the Attwater’s prairie chicken, which is possibly North America’s most endangered bird), three wolf species, and the ever-popular reticulated giraffe, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is a major player in the world of animal conservation and education.

Located in Glen Rose, about an hour’s drive southwest of Dallas, Fossil Rim began when Fort Worth businessman Tom Mantzel bought an exotic game ranch in 1974. Growing concerned over the loss of habitat and species extinction, Mantzel decided to experiment with a captive breeding program. In an effort to help repopulate a disappearing species, Grevy’s zebras were brought to the ranch in 1982. As a result, Fossil Rim became the first ranch to partner in a species survival plan with the American Zoo & Aquarium Association.

Due to its successful work with the Grevy’s zebra, Fossil Rim worked with the U.S. government to allow the importation of cheetahs from South Africa. That program has evolved into the facility’s greatest propagation success story, with more than 150 cheetahs having thus far been born at Fossil Rim, contributing significantly to the maintenance of a more diverse gene pool for the endangered feline.

Since 1984, Fossil Rim has been open to the public for self-guided driving tours that follow a nine-mile path through its 1,500 acres of forested hillsides. From the safety and comfort of their own vehicles, visitors can hand-feed many of the animals and take photos along the way. But those who stay overnight in tented cabins (each of which has a private bath, central heating, and air conditioning) get the bonus of being able to take the morning safari guided tour, setting out in an open-air vehicle that’s greeted by resident animals enthusiastically seeking early-morning handouts.

Especially striking at that hour are the giraffes, whose long, agile necks belie their size.

Even in a shrinking world, it’s a rare travel experience that makes you feel like you’re thousands of miles outside your comfort zone but still has all the creature comforts of home.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, 2155 County Road 2008, Glen Rose, Texas, 888-775-6742, www.FossilRim.org.

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