Off The Beaten Path: A Kentucky zoo and the family that runs it
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The sign welcoming you to Wendt’s Wildlife Adventure in Nicholas County depicts a sloth hanging from the branch of a tree. Just off US 68 near Carlisle on Maysville Road you’ll find sloths and so much more.
Some 500 animals from 35 species inhabit this family-run zoo created by Wisconsin transplants Shaun and Julie Wendt. The couple opened their zoo two years ago after working and living on the road doing pig races, camel rides, and petting zoos from New York to Florida.
Julie says it was a fun time because she and her husband spent all their time together. They even homeschooled their two oldest boys, Colt, and Eli, on the road.
But Julie says life on the road was also tough. “Set up a show and stay there a week. Tear down, set up, and repeat. So, there was a lot of physical labor involved with that.”
When the Wendts had their youngest child, daughter Ava, they decided it was time to come off the road. They settled in Nicholas County where they bought a 125-acre farm.
Shaun says their plan to operate a small zoo quickly grew. “It’s more work than we bargained for. I just thought we’d set up it up and coast along, but there’s been no coasting.”
After parking visitors go into a welcome center where zoo merchandise like t-shirts and cold refreshments are available. It’s also where people can buy cups of small carrots to feed the animals. The Wendts encourage visitors to interact with the animals when it’s possible.
Julie enjoys watching when visitors connect with the animals. “It’s fun to see the reactions of people. People are so happy when they come here and see all the animals. Here people can get up close and personal.”
Inside the welcome center, there are different species of birds including parakeets, turtles, snakes, lizards, goats, and three sloths named Charlie, Lola, and Sunshine plus a baby born on Easter Sunday.
Outside the welcome center, people can walk across a covered wood bridge over a stream. There’s a playground and picnic area nearby. Visitors will see “Hair Sheep” that look like goats, and you can walk inside the “Parakeet Encounter” where 250 birds are sitting and flying by.
Shaun says carrots are a good food for many animals.
“Most of the animals around here will eat carrots. It’s a good source of nutrition and fiber for the animal without overfeeding the animals like you would if you gave ‘em a lot of sweet food.”
A short walk up a hill takes you by zebras and camels. Shaun introduced a couple of the camels. “This is Junior, and this is George. Anybody that’s been to the Kentucky Horse Park at Southern Lights have seen these guys.” Junior is seven-foot-two inches tall and weighs about 1650 lbs. They are curious animals like many at this zoo that enjoy meeting people.
Each animal exhibit has an information sign so visitors can learn more about the animal’s native country and habitat. Last year the Wendts say about 5,000 school children came to the zoo on field trips.
Last month, Jenna Dodge from Mason Country brought Annabelle, her toddler daughter, to see the animals, and feed the goats. “I think it’s nice to have a place like this close to home that we can bring our kids to, that we don’t have to travel hours away to get to. If you don’t live on a farm, you don’t get exposed to these types of animals, and I think it’s important for littles to be around different types of animals.”
For Julie and Shaun Wendt, it’s gratifying to see people enjoy the animals. Shaun says, “the first week we were open, and I saw people enjoying something you built. There are not very many people that can say they’ve realized that, but it’s kind of amazing to see.”
Wendt’s Wildlife Adventure is open Wednesday thru Sunday. There’s even some Kentucky history to explore. The last cabin that Daniel Boone lived in before leaving Kentucky is on the property for people to see. Historians say the one-room cabin was built by Boone in 1795. He and his wife Rebecca lived there until they left for Missouri in 1799.
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