Zoo To Be Renovated, Reborn

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The Payson Zoo is about to prove that, yes, there is life after death.

The Rim country's one and only wild animal exhibit which opened two-and-a-half miles east of Star Valley in 1979 and closed this spring due to financial woes is being resurrected by Shae and Theresa Hensley, who own Ponderosa Exotic Animal Programs in the Valley, which they describe as a "living classroom."

The newly refurbished and renovated Payson Zoo will be open by December, Shae Hensley said, and it will be operated as a non-profit organization financed by donors and sponsors,.

Most of the existing zoo will be torn down and new, professionally executed exhibits will be built. The Hensley's plan to transfer a number of their Ponderosa critters to the zoo, including lion cubs, a tiger, camels, baboons, reindeer, a leopard and a bear. All told, there will be fewer animals, because the zoo's cages will be replaced by 18 to 24 wildlife habitat exhibits, Hensley said.

The Hensleys also will maintain the education side of their wild-animal business, creating programs for seniors, those with special needs, and others.

From Payson Zoo's opening day to its closing, previous owner Randy Ferry was the official tour guide for every zoo visitor guiding them past such residents as the javelina family named George, Bill, Hillary and Chelsea; Macho the donkey; Burt the bear; and, until his death, Ralph the Lion.

Over the years, the two-acre zoo also became an orphanage, housing coyotes, sheep, llamas, peacocks and an owl. The animals have now been relocated to other zoos and wildlife projects.

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