Kingdom Zoo

Kingdom Zoo

It’s been quite a while since Southeast Texas has had a zoo to call its own. From the 1920s to the ’70s, Beaumont had a small zoo at Magnolia Park that included bears and lions and much more —about 150 animals at its peak in the 1950s, according to local news archives. These animals were relocated to San Antonio in 1970, and it wasn’t until 2013 that Southeast Texas saw another zoo.

Licensed by the USDA, Kingdom Zoo at 1605 Strickland in Pinehurst near Orange calls itself a “micro zoo.” No, it isn’t a zoo for microbes, but rather a facility with exotics smaller than what many are accustomed to seeing at a zoo.

“We have spiders, snakes, scorpions, birds, small mammals and just some different things that people don’t see in a zoo that they can see here,” said Kingdom Zoo co-founder Lisa Moore. “A lot of people like our collection of tarantulas. … We have hairless albino rats and rainbow finches, which you don’t typically see.” 

The zoo also has African pygmy mice, a toucan, and a South American short-tailed opossum, also called a “house possum” because people in Brazil keep them inside their home as a pet to kill unwelcome insects.

Currently housing 86 species from six continents, Kingdom Zoo is re-launching Saturday, Jan. 14, with what will then be a collection of 100 species and expanded display rooms.

It is open two Saturdays a month and by appointment on Thursday evenings, according to Kingdom Zoo’s website. Admission fees are a $5 minimum donation per person or $20 minimum per family.

Although it is of a smaller scale than zoos in larger cities like Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, what’s noteworthy about Kingdom Zoo are owners Chester and Lisa Moore’s big hearts.

One of the main focuses of the zoo is its Wild Wishes program, which works with others like Moody Gardens in Galveston and S&S Exotics in Houston to grant once-in-a-lifetime animal encounters to children who have a terminal illness or have lost a parent or sibling. To date, 25 children have met their favorite exotic animals through the program.

The nonprofit is opening its official headquarters for the Wild Wishes program with a ribbon cutting set for Thursday, Dec. 22.

“We got the building just across the street and have refurbished it to host special events for Wild Wishes, which is our flagship outreach,” Lisa said. “We’ve granted everything from wolf to giraffe and owl wishes through our various partners with exotics throughout Texas.”

The facility will host special parties for the wish children in advance of their animal encounters and also facilitate encounters for children who cannot make long trips or spend time in harsh elements.

“We’ll bring the animals to them if they can’t go out, so we’re really excited about having a headquarters for the program, plus it allows us to expand our animal collection a bit,” Lisa said.

Kingdom Zoo visits Buckner Children’s Village once a month and Girls’ Haven once a quarter.

“It allows those kids to be kids,” Lisa said. “By being open and getting donations, we’re able to do that.”

What makes Kingdom Zoo unique is its message. You may have seen Chester on the daily kids program God’s Outdoors with Chester Moore on Saturdays at 10 a.m. on GETV.org.

“It’s all about showing children the love of Christ and showing them through this encounter with an animal they have only seen on television that good things can still happen in their lives despite the loss they might have experienced or the sickness they are fighting,” Lisa said.

“We talk about tarantulas and how they molt,” she continued. “Each time they molt, they shed their skin. They build up life’s toxins in their body, in their system, and their body gets hard. They’ll flip over on their back and in about 48 hours, much like Jesus in the tomb, they’ll rise up and be made new. … We’re showing God’s creation through our animals.”

When we visited Kingdom Zoo on Friday, Dec. 16, we even had a chance to meet Purity, a two-year-old Bengal cat that resembles a snow leopard. Purity was shy at first but came around and even allowed us to pet her.

An experience like that can be life changing for a child.

 

Donations for admission and contributions are used to help the zoo operate and fund the non-profit’s Wild Wishes program. Contributions can be made online as well at wildwishes.org. Follow Kingdom Zoo on Facebook and @kingdomzoo on Instagram.

shadow