Originally founded in 1967 as the “Snake Farm,” the facility draws thousands of guests each year and was renamed “Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo” after being purchased in 2007 and earning accreditation from the Zoological Association of America.
The accreditation was awarded because of the zoo’s focus on animal husbandry, conservation, education and research,.
It also allows the organization to collaborate with national zoos, according to Deputy Director Jarrod Forthman.
“We have several breeding programs like our jaguars," Forthman said. "If it weren’t for zoos, the survival of these species would be nearly impossible.”
Forthman joined the zoo in 2004 but knew he wanted to work there since he was eight years old.
That was when he visited with his family and held a snake for the first time. Though he had always been interested in reptiles and snakes, seeing one in-person made him appreciate the animals even more.
The zoo offers educational shows every 30 minutes, and Forthman said these experiences, like his own experience as a child, are important in helping visitors better understand the animals that share their environment.
“One of the biggest things that helps with conservation that we do is a lot of hands on animal education—teaching people about the environment and about animals in nature as well as in captivity,” Forthman said. “Here in Central Texas we actually have more species of snakes than anywhere in the country.”
In total, the zoo houses more than 500 species of animals ranging from snakes and reptiles to lions and camels.
The zoo has grown as staff regularly update and expand enclosures. About 25 acres of land was recently acquired, and it will eventually become home to some of the larger animals at the zoo.
“We're in the process right now of tearing out all the old snake exhibits and building these bioactive enclosures,” Forthman said. “You just don't put an animal in the enclosure and leave it, so we do a lot of different enrichment.”
Updating enclosures to more closely resemble habitats found in the wild help the animals continue to explore their surroundings and have mental stimulation as well as physical care, Forthman said.
The educational shows also give the animals opportunities to learn skills they would have in the wild while visitors gain a better understanding of their natural behaviors, he said.
“When you're here, you're going to get those educational shows every 30 minutes, and you’re right up close to the animals,” Forthman said. “That's kind of like the bread and butter of the place.”
Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo
5640 Interstate 35 S., New Braunfels
Mon.-Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.