Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh My!

We recently took a drive to see exotic wild animals in (of all places) Preston County, WV. Just about 16 miles up Rt. 7 (mostly along beautiful Deckers Creek) from the I-68 exit in Morgantown is Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo, a 13 acre USDA Licensed Facility between Reedsville and Kingwood. This eclectic collection of animals grew out of the strong affinity the Hovatter family has for animals of all kinds, and has expanded over the years since it first opened in 1991.

We followed the signs to the large parking area, and then walked down to the main building/gift shop. The admission was $10 for adults, plus another $7.50 if you want the optional bag of assorted treats to feed the animals (the salesperson gives you a few tips, such as only feed carrots to the giraffes, and the bears really like the granola bars).

Once you leave the main building, you wander from enclosure to enclosure, checking out the animals that live there while doling out the various food items. As they said in the Wizard of Oz, there were “lions and tigers and bears, oh my” as well as giraffes, camels, tortoises, boars, zebras, monkeys, and others. Many of the cages featured downward slanting PVC pipes, which made it easy to deliver food inside the enclosure.

Perhaps the most fun was feeding carrots to the giraffes. All you had to do was hold up a carrot, and they would stretch their long necks over the fence to take it out of your hand. Also, some of the primates could reach out with their arms and tiny hands to take food directly from your hand. Plus, I fed a camel through the fence.

The animals seemed to be well cared for, even if they were in a pen, far from their original homes. Some people are opposed to zoos because they don’t like animals in captivity. It is a bit sad to see them spending their lives locked in an enclosure, regardless of how much room there might be.

However, there were a lot of children there (as well as adults) who were thoroughly enjoying their close-up experience with these famous animals. Zoos have always been very educational, and they help people to better understand and appreciate the animal world around us. I can still remember my first trip to visit a zoo (it was a bit similar to Hovatter’s but was located in Hurricane, WV, and we had heard about it on the old Mr. Cartoon show), just like I’m sure many of the children at Hovatter’s will remember their visit.

Hovatter’s is nice because one can get a taste of what a zoo is like, without needing to travel into a major urban center like Washington, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh. It’s not a huge facility, but we enjoyed our visit there. Plus, I’d much rather drive alongside the dancing waters of Deckers Creek than face the heavy traffic found in big cities. [If you have time, stop at the little roadside park along Route 7 near the border between Monongalia and Preston Counties—there is a path from the park down to Deckers Creek where you can access several nice waterfalls.]

This zoo is a labor of love for the Hovatter family—it isn’t a lucrative profession. The patrons we saw that day seemed to really enjoy their opportunity to go on safari without leaving West Virginia. If you like zoo animals and think you’d like to visit Hovatter’s, check out their website at

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