By Emily M. Grey
A baby pronghorn springs playfully in the air. A bull elk, known as Pecos Bull, saunters to a walkway, shakes its handsome rack, and peers up fearlessly at a group of human admirers. Phantom, the grown mountain lion bats a bowling ball, its favorite toy, and then hugs and kicks it.
One of my most endearing discoveries in New Mexico is a combination environmental education center, licensed zoological park, and wildlife refuge 20 minutes east of Albuquerque. Here, rescued, injured, and non-releasable wildlife indigenous to the state will live, forever protected.
“Wildlife West Nature Park is 122 acres of love for native rescued wildlife and plants in an enhanced zoo and wildlife refuge setting,” says Roger Alink, Park Director and Founder. “This is the only zoo in the world built all by kids!”
Established 12 years ago, this is the proud educational project of the New Mexico Wildlife Association, a not for profit corporation. Its mission is to preserve the rich heritage of native New Mexico wildlife and its habitat through education, scientific research, and the sponsorship of a wildlife park.
Volunteers and New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps members operate this haven, open year-round to the public. Donations, party rentals, Megan’s Pantry, and reasonably priced gift shop items, like adorable stuffed critters, help fund it.
Animal lovers will not want to dart in and out of this zoo-like environment.
Healthy looking birds and mammals caged in natural habitats command attention. And, anthropomorphic or not, most of these creatures have names.
Area school children and adults come to know these personalities. Bird handling classes, summer camps, and festivals teach people to understand the biology and appreciate the wild beasties.
Bert, the Great-horned Owl, Barney and Festus, the Turkey Vulture, maintain eye contact while spreading their enormous wings. Alpha and Beta, a pair of endangered Mexican wolves pace their pen and then recline in the shade. In a nearby enclosure their “prairie wolf” cousin, Carrie the coyote, laps water and, with engaging amber eyes, stares at onlookers.
An adult mountain lion vocalizes and reacts wildly to the sound of a certain man’s voice. Volunteer Bill Brown has tended for and visited Moon Shadow since it was a kitten. The feline runs atop its rock den and over to its caretaker, allowing him to enter his domain and scratch his head. Clearly, this would be a hazardous game for most humans.
This outdoor classroom uses mainly recyclable materials to build or refurbish. Over 1000 native species of plants such as blue spruce, ponderosa pine, and cottonwoods beautify the park. While strolling along the gravel dirt path, one can enjoy herbal scents and a visual feast of pink-flowered cholla, prickly pear, and other cacti.
Twenty-three species of wildlife presently dwell here. Besides the mammals mentioned there are javelina, bobcat, black bear, white-tailed deer, and gray fox. A baby raccoon and doe mule deer are the newest inhabitants.
An American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawk, Harris Hawk, and Prairie Falcon are the remaining birds of prey. Swimming in the augmented wetland pond are Mallards, Snow Geese, American Coot, and box turtles. Jackrabbits, foxes, and non-venomous bull and garter snakes are seen roaming at large.
Because of limited resources and habitat restrictions, Wild West Nature Park cannot give every deserving animal a home. It continually strives to improve and add a variety of fundraising entertainment. The staff performs with gift shop puppets at chuck wagon dinners. Blue grass concerts and tractor drives are also popular.
Wildlife West Nature Park
87 North Frontage Rd.
Edgewood, NM 87015
(877) 981-9453 or (505) 281-7655
Summer Hours: 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Winter Hours: Noon–4 p.m.
Cost: Adults $5.00
Children under 5: Free
From Interstate 40 take exit 187 (Edgewood) and turn North. Veer left at the Conoco station heading West on the North Frontage Road. Continue to the park entrance on the right.