Going wild at Reno's Sierra Safari Zoo

Richard Moreno/Nevada Appeal The Sierra Safari Zoo's petting area offers a chance to get up close with some of the friendlier animals.

Richard Moreno/Nevada Appeal The Sierra Safari Zoo's petting area offers a chance to get up close with some of the friendlier animals.

The Sierra Safari Zoo, north of Reno, has tigers, lions, cougars, hyenas, alligators, panthers, leopards and pythons - but it's the deer you've really got to worry about.

That's because all the potentially dangerous creatures are in secure cages while the fallow deer in the open petting zoo area are not only close enough to touch but near enough to gnaw on your clothing.

Chewed clothes notwithstanding, the Sierra Safari Zoo is a pretty interesting place. Located at 10200 North Virginia Street in the Stead area north of Reno (take U.S. 395 to the Red Rock Road exit), the zoo is home to some 40 different species of exotic animals, reptiles and birds.

The four-acre facility opened in 1989 as a private zoo owned by Jim Martin and Dale McDaniel. In 1995, however, it became a nonprofit organization in order to attract more public involvement and to help with the costs of caring and feeding the animals. Today, volunteers largely run the zoo.

Despite the pesky deer that simply like to follow you around, one of the Safari's best features is the one-acre petting area in the center of the facility, where visitors can feed and touch many of the animals.

The section is extremely popular with children, many of whom can bond with the tame creatures.

Of course, the zoo also contains a number of more unique animals in cages. For instance, in the jungle cat exhibit, a female Siberian tiger named Tasha and the zoo's unique "liger," a half-lion/half-tiger named Hobbs, lounge in a large enclosure that spreads out into a canyon below the main part of the zoo.

Meanwhile, in an adjacent enclosure, the zoo's white tiger, Nicholai, suddenly jumps into a large metal tub of water to soak and escape the late summer heat. The zoo also has two adult African lions, Sierra and Kenya, as well as their son, Jambo.

The zoo's smaller cat exhibits feature a pair of cougars, Songan and Sable, a family of bobcats and two servals, Rocky and Bette. Near the park entrance you'll also spot a black panther sharing an enclosure with a sleek, spotted leopard.

Wandering around the zoo, you'll encounter an American bison, ostriches, a camel and a large enclosure housing bouncing Bennett wallabies as well as shy muntjacs, which look like a miniature deer.

A series of other cages are home to a pack of rather active baboons, including two adorable babies, a zebra, a family of ring-tailed lemurs and a patas monkey.

The least active residents are probably the two sloths, who just sort of hang around in their glass enclosures. Although during our recent visit, a volunteer brought out a four-week-old baby sloth. The soft, but large-clawed creature had her long arms tightly wrapped around the volunteer's chest but was receptive to our petting.

One of the most popular animals in the zoo is a spotted hyena, named Hymie, who apparently likes to talk to visitors.

The zoo's reptilian inhabitants include a slumbering American alligator named Elvira, and two giant Burmese pythons. Snickers is a brown, 14-foot snake while Crystal is a 13-foot albino python.

The zoo's birds include a brightly colored Catalina Macaw, who actually greets you with "Hello," when you walk by, followed by "Good-bye," when you continue onward. The zoo also has a green-wing macaw, a scarlet macaw, a sulfur-crested cockato, and seemingly dozens of free-ranging peacocks.

The Sierra Safari Zoo is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Cost is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and children under 15. Children two and under are free.

For more information call 775-677-1101 or visit www.sierrasafarizoo.com.

Richard Moreno is the author of "Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada" and "The Roadside History of Nevada" which are available at local bookstores.


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