- Associated Press - Sunday, December 17, 2017

ALVIN, Texas (AP) - Clint Wolston loves Pee Wee like his own son. A 4,500-pound son with a giant horn sticking out the front of his head.

“An amazing looking animal,” Wolston said. “How you could design something like that is beyond me.”

The Houston Chronicle reports Pee Wee is a docile, white rhino that lives in a barn near entrance of Bayou Wildlife Zoo, an attraction that has been a staple of many childhoods. Owned and operated by Wolston since 1985, it’s currently for sale for the princely sum of $6 million.

Be it a divine creator or evolution, how do we get something as beautiful and awkward as Pee Wee?

Wolston has this thought every day as he surveys the hundreds of animals on his property near Dickinson during daily rounds on a golf cart. By his estimation there is one animal birth a week at the zoo. Yes there are also deaths, which Wolston and his team never get used to.

There are currently 500 or so animals on site, including over 60 species of birds that come and go as they please. Animals at the zoo include zebras, a zonkey (the offspring of a donkey and zebra relationship), various ostriches and emus (who can be quite testy), a family of giraffes, camels, four alligators, small kangaroos, ring-tailed lemurs, rare breeds of cattle (ever heard of a Watusi?), exotic variations on the common deer. He can rattle off how much the animals are worth like they are cars or bottles of wine.

Wolston employs 10 people, who are in charge of taking care of the animals and tending to visitors.

He turns 81 years old in April and he’s fatigued. He loves the animals like children but he’s ready to relax, watch TV, and have dinner with his wife. A photo of Pee Wee and Wolston is on display in the main building on site, when Pee Wee was just over a year old and waist-high.

After nearly 40 years of owning the land and 32 years after the gates first opened, Wolston is looking to retire from tending to the menagerie of animals set across the 86 acres he has amassed an hour south of Houston.

The new owner will need to take on the regular inspections that come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which Wolston says have grown onerous. There are also the permits from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the Galveston County Health Department to keep up to date. Keeping up with veterinarian visits on site and managing the daily visitor operations are a grind, too.

The zoo gets deliveries every other week from Weimar’s M-G Feed to the tune of about 270 tons a year. According to M-G’s Mark Kloesel the shipments come in at around 4 a.m on an 18-wheeler on delivery day.

“Clint wants us in there early before the kids start coming out to look at the animals,” Kloesel said.

By Kloesel’s estimation Wolston spends around $66,000 a year in feed alone.

Open six days a week from just 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., last year alone 90,000 people came to visit the park. Cash only, Wolston says. A visit includes a tram ride through the grounds where visitors can get up close and personal with the animals, which roam freely among each other like family.

Whoever purchases the land, Wolston doesn’t want much to change. He plans on staying for a few months to ease the transition process if he does find a qualified buyer. Wolston is looking for a new owner to continue the magic for the next generation.

“We just ask that they keep everything the same,” Wolston said. “Most people want to keep it as is.” It will take someone with a special touch, a patient animal lover, who is willing to learn things about animals not taught in school.

As previously reported, there is a covered picnic area for 400 people, 16 barns, a gift shop, sales office, a machine shop, six restrooms, a fleet of Jeeps, and seven trams. To maintain the spread, a buyer will also become owner of a bulldozer, grader, backhoe, tractor, trailers, fencing, and other ranch equipment.

Before being a zoo owner he was a general contractor that built metal buildings. He’s built all the buildings and barns onsite. The property and the animals weren’t harmed during Hurricane Harvey since Wolston prepared decades ago for biblical rains. Back in 1979, the nearby city of Alvin was inundated as Tropical Storm Claudette gifted the area with 42 inches of rain in one 24-hour period. This made Wolston build his animal enclosures and shelters somewhat higher than needed.

The property features two miles of trails, 15 lakes and ponds (dug out by Wolston), native trees, and 3,500 feet of waterfront on Dickinson Bayou.

Charlee Sauls works in the gift shop at Bayou Wildlife Zoo. She joined the staff a little over a year ago after retiring from an office job.

“We get them from 8 months old to 80 years old here,” she said. A large group of senior citizens just toured the zoo in one of the trams.

Sauls feeds Buster, a small deer that roams around the grounds like a puppy, a few blueberry Pop-Tarts each morning. If Buster doesn’t get any attention from Sauls he nudges the door of the gift shop to remind her he’s there.

“It’s an easygoing life out here,” she says.

There is a touch of melancholy to Wolston’s personality as he drives around the park, calling out to the animals with pet names like “Little Girl,” ”Mister,” and “Big Fella.” Some wander up to the cart and nuzzle him.

His age has finally caught up to him and his body isn’t as spry as it once was, although he can impart an encyclopedic knowledge of the gaur (a type of bison from India) he has in a barn to anyone who will listen.

Born and raised in Dickinson, Wolston says he’s achieved everything he’s ever wanted to with Bayou Wildlife. He’s delighted two generations of kids, some of whom have come back as grown-ups with their own children to see Pee Wee and the gang. The memories run deep for area residents.

“I got all the animals I ever wanted and it’s made pretty good money,” Wolston says. “But I don’t want to be here when I’m 90.”


Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide