For the past several years, we’ve returned to the Wildwood Wildlife Park in Minocqua each summer to visit the owners who are friends, and to see the ever-increasing array of animals and attractions the park features.
The annual treks coincide with a week-long stay with us of two youngsters from the Twin Cities area – children of friends, who come to stay with us for about a week this time of year. Martha and I serve as their “foster grandparents.” They are 13-year-old William and 11-year-old Tiana Cachuela.
They like the park visit in part because the owners – Duane and Judy Domaszek – give us individualized tours and often let them hold some of the animals. The Domaszeks are Rosholt-area natives who purchased the park in 1997, and have built it into the second-largest zoo in Wisconsin – after the Milwaukee County Zoo. They have more than 750 animals. And the indefatigable Domaszeks keep working on expansion – they’re in the midst of preparing a Serengeti-like space to house some new additions, including an anticipated pair of giraffes in 2013. Just in the past year, they’ve added a host of new animals.
Wildwood is becoming a true family business, with the Domaszeks one son joining mom and dad in operating the park and a second son about to. Running a wildlife habitat is one of those enterprises that doesn’t allow for many days off – the need to feed and care for the animals daily is a necessity. It’s a 24-seven operation.
On our most-recent visit, we were amazed to see how many changes they’ve made to the park since last summer, and at how many new species they’ve acquired.
After a fascinating afternoon, we headed home and all agreed the most interesting new animal at Wildwood was the binturong, or more popularly, a bearcat. We got to see the creature up close – its face had long, white whiskers like a cat, but a body more nearly like a bear, with long, coarse black hair. The animal has a thick prehensile tail as long as its body, making it nearly six-feet long from nose to the end of its tail. It’s in the civet family.
The nocturnal bearcat’s natural habitat is in the trees and forests of Southeast Asia. It eats mostly fruit – it seemed well-pleased to feast on chunks of banana that Duane fed it with tongs. But when I put my camera lens through the sturdy wire cage, the binturong let out a high-pitched screaming growl that made us think we’d not like to encounter one without something substantial between us. The facial expression that accompanied the scream was proof the animal could be vicious if cornered. They have an unusual scent – Duane described it to us as the smell of popcorn in a movie theater.
Another new addition to the park is blue duikers, tiny antelopes native to Central and South Africa.
The blue-tinged brown animals resemble baby deer, and don’t grow much beyond nine or ten pounds in weight, and a foot in height. Youngsters would love to pick them up and cuddle them – they’re really cute.
Also new to Wildwood this season is the nene, or Hawaiian goose. The medium-sized bird is exclusively native to Maui, Kauai, Molokai and Hawaii. Scientists surmise some of the birds flew off-course on their migration south, and wound up in the Hawaiian Islands half-a-million years ago.
The endangered nene is Hawaii’s state bird. It developed strong, padded feet with partial webbing, which allow it to move quickly along rough terrain, and does not migrate.
The newest addition to the park is a baby Hoffman’s two-toed sloth, born on Aug. 12. The slow-moving sloths are native to South American rain forests. The baby is still clinging to its mother and snuggles in her camouflaged fur. At last report, the mammal weighed about a pound and was eight-inches long.
Sloths love to sleep – snoozing for at least 16-hours each day. They eat leaves, flower buds and fruit. Judy told us it could be six months before the baby will try to hang by itself from branches.
Among other new animal attractions are a pair of newly-born Red-Handed Tamarins, primates native to northeast South America. The babies have orange-red hands and feet and claws rather than nails.
Tamarins are a highly-endangered species, about the size of a squirrel.
It was fun to see some of the older attractions again –wolves, tigers, zebras, kangaroos and wallabies, camel, free-roaming deer and goats, and birds.
Things are not always roses when operating a wildlife park. Duane told us that in the past year, he lost almost a dozen peacocks to a predator. After hearing some loud squawking one day, he looked out to see a bald eagle carting off one of the colorful birds.
And there are always some visitors who don’t pay attention to instructions cautioning against feeding or harassing the animals, and need reminding to behave.
But the Domaszeks’ love of animals and their hard work keeps them going, and their efforts are amazing, indeed.
You might enjoy a stop at Wildwood, west of Minocqua on Highway 70, the next time you’re vacationing in the area.