With their unpredictable temperament, the ostriches took the meal event to another level. One approached our car, acting like a machine in War of The Worlds with its stilt-like legs, tank-like feathered body and garden-hose neck. Ignoring the pellets thrown on the ground, he (she?) thrust its basketball-sized head through the open car window seeking our small, white pellet-filled bags.
Face to face, inches away, the fuzzy head didn’t look so fuzzy anymore. The ostrich’s hair was a dense patch of frizzy straws standing on end, like the Bride of Frankenstein. Its large black eyes, expressionless. With a saucer-sized beak, it pecked pellets from my palm with the dexterity of a clumsy binder clip. I’m just glad it left my nose alone.
The park is similar to Lion Country Safari that used to be near Laguna Hills, where a fee is paid at the park entrance and you drive through the park viewing the wildlife. 30 miles north of San Antonio and adjacent to the Natural Bridge Caverns, the Natural Bridge Wildlife Refuge was surprisingly fun for someone who lives in a city with the Wild Animal Park and San Diego Zoo.
At the dirt-brown shack at the park entrance, the hostess cheerfully collected the fee and gave us two small white bags of animal chow. She admonished us to stay in the car and not feed the animals by hand, just drop the food on the ground when you get near them.
That’s fine instruction for people – but what about the horned African gazelles, zebras or ostriches? They didn’t sign up to eat dirty food.
When we approached, they ignored the food droppings we tossed and went straight for the clean stuff – in the small white bags. With thick, hairy lips, they nimbly scarfed the green/brown pellets from our outstretched hands, trying not to bite the hand that feeds.
Other animals had their shticks: sheep stood around in groups and blocked the road, burros let you pet them if you fed them, the zebra was aloof and the white rhino stayed away, disinterested. A bison tried to hide behind a six-inch diameter tree while African Plains animals lounged around in plain sight and played “Can you see me?”
At the petting zoo area, juvenile goats and sheep entertained by being cute and cuddly; lemurs tried to make you dizzy with their jumping and running around.
Located within the 400-acre compound of Texas Hill Country, the refuge supports 500 animals and 40 different species. Starting out as a ranch over 100 years ago, Wildlife Ranch is between San Antonio and New Braunfels, Texas, 7 miles west of I35 exit #175.
Adult admissions are $16.50 and children 3-11 are $8.50. Discount coupons and additional information are available at wildliferanchtexas.com.