Monroe ranch has about 35 exotic specimens

2011-10-11T09:30:00Z Monroe ranch has about 35 exotic specimensBy Julie Blum Columbus Telegram
October 11, 2011 9:30 am  • 

MONROE - Todd Laudenklos climbs over the railing of an outside pen calling out to Molly.

The shaggy, white and brown yak perks up, quickly recognizing his voice. She pushes up on all fours, eagerly awaiting a visit from her owner.

Laudenklos pets her, saying that Molly thinks she is a person and loves being around children. The 12-year-old yak follows him to the railing as he climbs back over, and turns to the next pen. There he tries to get the attention of Leroy Brown, one of five wildebeests that Laudenklos has on his Horn T Ranch in rural Monroe.

The yak and wildebeest are unusual animals to have on a farm in rural Nebraska, but they aren't the only uncommon creatures found at the ranch.

For several years, Laudenklos has been raising exotic animals, starting with a Grant's zebra. Today, he has about 35 exotic mammals, reptiles and birds, and this summer, he opened the Horn T Zoo.

"I was raised to be an animal lover," he said.

Laudenklos has been around animals his entire life. When he was four years old, his dad, Harry, gave him his first lamb, which he cared for and bottle fed. Early plans for Laudenklos were to attend school to become a zoologist, but he instead earned a degree in farm and ranching. He helped raise goats on his family farm.

But ordinary farm animals would just not do.

For about a dozen years, he got his fix for exotic animals by raising zebras. Then he expanded his private collection by buying or trading animals from exotic sales held around the country.

His collection grew so much, that he finally decided to open a zoo. Granted a USDA exhibitor permit, the Horn T Zoo was officially opened in July. Laudenklos is co-owner with Randy Fisher. The two, along with Harry Laudenklos and his wife, Sharon, tend to the various species on display.

The zoo is in a 72 feet by 100 feet barn on the 40-acre ranch. The zebra are there, including Zaboo, a three year old that Laudenklos had since she was just six months. She is caged next to a family of wildebeest, the youngest of the brood was born two months ago, and Laudenklos claims it is the first ever wildebeest to be born in Nebraska.

Several other four-legged creatures live there too, including a Brazilian cow, a Watusi steer, a Clydesdale horse, African sheep, a chocolate and white skunk, llamas and a miniature Sicilian donkey.

Others inside the barn are a three-foot baby alligator, vulturine guineas and exotic pheasants. Two rowdy neighbors are Bandit, a coatimundi, and Co-Co the spider monkey. The two often have a tug of war over Co-Co's blanket.

Most of the animals have a cordial relationship with Laudenklos. They come when they are called and enjoyed being held or petted. But he is always aware that he is dealing with beasts that are more typically found roaming African plains.

"Exotics have their moods. The are just like wild animals," he said.

And because they aren't native, some of the creatures have special needs. Some won't be able to stay with Laudenklos during the winter because they can't deal with the cold. The zebra and cattle do well in the winter because they were raised in a northern climate.

Caring for all the exotics takes time, too. After Laudenklos works his regular job at the Columbus Sales Pavilion, he puts in another five or six hours a day to tend to the animals.

Since the zoo opened, Laudenklos said it has averaged more than 50 visitors when it is open on the weekends. Several visitors have been from schools and parents bring their children. Laudenklos is happy to see that because he opened the zoo to help educate the public and also for families who might not be able to afford a trip to Omaha or Lincoln.

The zoo will be closing for the year at the end of the month, but he plans to open it again next year. There will probably be new additions then, and hopes are to one day expand the barn to hold more animals.

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