The neighborhood has gone wild
Story by Danielle Portteus
Photos by Tom Hawley
Kangaroos, wallaby, zebras, monkeys and even a giraffe hang out at a special place in Bedford Township.
The Indian Creek Zoo, owned and operated by Joe Garverick, grew from a camel farm to a full-scale zoo filled with domestic and exotic species in just a few years.
Joe and his girlfriend Patti Lyden have opened their 40-plus acre property at 2740 Consear Rd., Lambertville to people from all around the region looking for a chance to interact with a variety of species.
“People love coming here to pet and feed the animals,” Joe said.
Although not every animal is able to be fed by visitors, guests have options. They can offer carrots to rabbits, pet a dog that roams the property and feed sloths and even Puzzles the giraffe.
The pair opened Indian Creek Camel Farm several years before they launched the zoo. They had dromedary camels, or camels with one hump, and Bactrian, or two-hump camels. At that time, Joe opened his property to the public a couple of times a month and hosted fundraisers for charity.
The camel farm expanded to include donkeys, alpacas, peacocks and goats. In 2014, exotic animals joined the mix.
“We now have 300 animals and 60 different species,” Joe said. He does not have plans to stop either. Joe recently purchased two plots of land adjoining the zoo with the hopes to continue to expand and add more creatures.
The zoo grew out of the idea that every child should be outside, not staring at a screen, Joe said.
“We are part of the ‘No Child Left Inside’ movement,” Joe said. “Kids are growing up with nature deficiency disorder because they spend so much time playing video games or on their cell phones. We want kids and their families to come out and enjoy nature and the animals,” he said.
One of the unique aspects of the zoo is the animal encounters where visitors can pay an additional $25 to spend time with Puzzles, his alpaca friend Jigsaw and feed and pet the animals. People can also do the same with the sloths Hokey and Pokey.
During the summer, kids ages 7 to 16 can attend a five-day summer camp that includes animal encounters, behind-the-scenes visits and feedings among other activities.
Joe said he decided to open a zoo for many reasons including his passion for animals and the excitement on people’s faces.
“More people go to zoos each year than professional sporting events combined,” Joe said. “People’s time is important and here they can spend an hour or so together as a family.”
The animals at the zoo come from a variety of places including other zoos and exotic animal shows like Lolli Brothers in Macon, Mo.
Joe said the animals bred at the zoo are either kept or sold or traded to other zoos for exhibition.
“I’ve sold some of my camels to the Toledo Zoo,” he explained.
When it comes to the selection of his featured creatures, Joe said the customers are “his boss” and offer feedback on new additions and potential acquisitions.
“They want the kids to see a lot of different animals and we try to offer a large variety,” he said. “We also want to help educate people and talk about conservation so it is an important aspect in what we do.”
Like most zoos, Indian Creek has images and a plaque with information about each of the animals on display. The information includes whether an animal is endangered or vulnerable to endangerment.
The zoo’s annual attendance has grown rapidly. In 2015, about 10,000 people visited. That number more than doubled to 35,000 visitors in 2016.
This year, Joe expects the numbers to continue increasing.
“We are projecting 65,000 people this year,” he said. “People are coming from all over, but most of our visitors are coming from an hour away.”
Joe owns The Legacy Golf Course in Ottawa Lake and Summerlyn subdivision in Lambertville and uses his business acumen to help the zoo grow.
“I know what works and what people want here,” he said.
Though he plans to continue adding species, Joe said he does not have plans to add large cats such as tigers and lions, in part because they pace back and forth in cages and do not have much room to roam.
Joe said he works hard to keep the zoo in top shape. Indian Creek Zoo is licensed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its cages met USDA specific standards. He employs a large animal vet to care for the animals.
Indian Creek Zoo offers a variety of memberships. An annual family membership for two adults and four kids is $75. Individual memberships cost $40. A one-day pass is $8 for children 17 and younger, $9 for seniors and $10 for adults. Children 2 and younger are free.
The zoo is open April until October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
More information is available at http://indiancreekzoo.com.