Rare animals can be found in Barry County's own backyard

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Promised Land Animal Park in Eagle Rock offers Barry County residents an opportunity to see, touch and feed a wide variety of endangered and threatened animal species.

"We have a four-mile, drive-through area, a walk-through area with camels and kangaroos and a petting zoo," said Laura Sanders, park curator. "We offer a broad range of activities so there is something for everyone.

"This is one of the last facilities that allows visitors to feed and touch the animals," said Sanders. "When Exotic Animal Paradise, (which is located north of Springfield), closes in October, Promised Land will be the only drive-through animal park in southwest Missouri."

Promised Land Animal Park was founded in the early 1990s by Sanders' parents, Jeff and Diane. The original private park was located a few miles from the present location.

In 1997, the Sanders family moved to their present location on Highway 86. Two years later the park was opened to the public for the first time.

"We started with just a few animals," said Sanders, who grew up with the animal park. "Then we collected more, and later people began to ask for tours. Now it is enormous."

Promised Land covers around 100 acres and features 450 animals and around 38 species. The facility is United States Department of Agriculture accredited and holds many permits for the various animals housed and cared for on the property.

The park, which features animals from Africa, India, Asia and virtually every continent except Antarctica, specializes in rare and endangered hoof stock. Threatened, endangered and critically endangered species featured at Promised Land include: Aoudad, Ring-Tailed Lemur, Formosa Sika Deer, Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Japanese Sika Deer and Nubian Ibex.

Featured species are facing extinction due to habitat loss, over-hunting and natural disasters.

The park is also home to Ankole-Watusi Cattle, Axis Deer, Beisa Oryx, Bison, Coatimundi, Dromedary Camel, Eland, Ellipsis Waterbuck, Fallow Deer, Grants Zebra, Nilgai, Sicilian Donkey, Wildebeest, White-Bearded Gnu and numerous other birds, marsupials and primates.

Inside the petting zoo area, visitors will find Pygmy Goats, Patagonian Cavies and giant rabbits. The visitors center and gift shop features prairie dogs, a hedgehog, an iguana and a 21-foot Burmese Python named Baby.

Currently, the zoo has several infant animals, including Aoudad, Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Nubian Ibex, Red Kangaroo, Blackbuck Antelope, ankole, elk, buffalo and deer.

"This animal park is different because we focus on breeding endangered species as well as on displaying them," said Sanders. "We have a lot of critically endangered species, and we have become good at breeding them."

Promised Land has larger and often multiple groups of animals to preserve genetic diversity and maintain strong bloodlines.

"Promised Land is always adding new enclosures and new animals," said Sanders. "Now we are also working with a lot of school groups and libraries."

Members of the animal park will be guest speakers at several area libraries during the summer reading program, "Claws, Paws, Tales and Scales."

"Anyone can learn from the park and come out and enjoy a day here," said Sanders. "We get a lot of people from Eureka Springs and Branson."

Around 10,000 people visit the animal park each year. With the constant flow of visitors, Sanders is able to help educate the public about many of the endangered species that the park cares for.

"With the experience and hands-on contact, people learn to become more concerned about conservation," said Sanders. "I hope visitors learn that just because these animals aren't in their back yard and they don't see them everyday, even if they live half way across the world, they need conservation.

"The way these animals are declining, if people don't learn that," said Sanders, "we won't have much of them left."

Sanders also educates young adults through Promised Land's new internship program. In completing the animal park internship program, students interested in animal care professions become eligible for a Promised Land Scholarship.

"Each intern is required to complete 25 hours of work and a variety of zoo-related tasks in order to receive the certificate of completion and be eligible for the scholarship," said Sanders.

Interns work around the animal park as tour guides and animal care apprentices.

"They study husbandry, nutrition, handling, transporting, bottle-feeding, first-aid and other general animal care skills," said Sanders.

Area high school students who are at least 16 years old with an interest in pursuing higher education in biology, agriculture or veterinary science are eligible for the program. Applications are available at the park visitor center.

Promised Land offers discounted group rates to groups of 12 or more and church groups. The park can also host birthday parties and other special occasions upon request.

Promised Land Animal Park is open everyday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer season. The park is located on Highway 86 in Eagle Rock.

For more information call Sanders at 271-3324 or visit the park on the web at promisedlandanimalpark.com

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