- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

Bunnies hop, donkeys bray, and camels roam, all in the shadow of minimansions. Welcome to the Reston Zoo, a little slice of wildlife just off the Dulles Toll Road.

A little more than a year ago, new tenants took over the zoo on Hunter Mill Road near Baron Cameron Avenue in Reston. What formerly was called the Reston Animal Park has been moved to Leesburg.

In its place, new owner Eric Mogensen has stocked the place with a collection of animals from both the farm and the jungle. Some of the old favorites, such as an elephant and a huge ox, are gone, but others, such as the camels, have moved in.

"We like to think of this as something in between the National Zoo and a petting zoo," says Jim Musselwhite, senior zookeeper. "People don't always take advantage of going downtown. This gives the local community somewhere to go to see animals. You can get a lot closer to the animals here than you can get at the National Zoo."

Indeed, the barn animals are there for the petting. In the barn are pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits, a llama and Ringo the pony. Children can roam among the chickens, feed a baby lamb from a bottle or encourage the goats to eat feed from their hands. Bottles are available for $1 each; the feed costs $5 a bucket or $1 for a small cone.

"We love the baby animals that the kids can actually touch," says Angela Jrab, a Warrenton, Va., woman who was visiting recently with her children, ages 2 and 4.

Some of the animals the Jrabs saw on their previous visit such as a tiger and the elephant left with the former owners. New attractions include a reptile house, where snakes are kept safely behind glass, and the camels.

Three times daily, a free safari hayride takes visitors to the outer edges of the property. On the ride, patrons can see donkeys, reindeer, ostriches, emus and zebras grazing in the field, which abuts the custom decks of an upscale housing development.

On weekends, the 30-minute safari ride goes out five times a day, and $2.50 pony rides also are offered, Mr. Musselwhite says.

Closer to the main part of the zoo are bird cages where visitors can see the bright colors of such birds as peacocks and macaws.

Kiman Mickens, a 5-year-old from the District, is more impressed with the ducklings up for a visit at the barn from their usual spot at the duck pond running at his feet.

"Can we keep one?" he asks his mom, Nakia Dawkins.

Mother and son were discovering the Reston Zoo one recent sweltering afternoon after leaving a field trip at nearby Lake Fairfax Park.

The zoo has a shady picnic spot on a hill, closer to the road and far enough away that a sandwich won't tempt a primate. There also is a big gift shop that sells animal-themed souvenirs as well as soft drinks, juices and ice-cream bars.

Even though the new owners took over the zoo in spring 2000, it still is a work in progress, Mr. Musselwhite says. The staff is working on renovating some of the exhibits, painting some and offering some animals new things on which to climb. The owners also are thinking of eventually adding some new animals, he says.

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