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Animal Encounters Trail

Animal Encounters Trail is an exhibit that emphasizes the importance of animals in nature.

 The Heard currently provides a home to non-releasable native and non-native animals in exhibits that teach people about animals and the pertinent role they have in nature worldwide

Animal Exhibit Mission Statement

The mission of the Heard Museum is to motivate visitors to care enough about the natural world to take interest in restoring and preserving the earth’s ecosystems. By utilizing wild animal “ambassadors” that emotionally connect our visitors to the places these animals live, we can inspire children and adults to take a more proactive role in conserving wild spaces.

bobcats sitting together in their enclosure

Animal Ambassadors

When you visit Heard Museum, you’ll find various animal ambassadors.

  • Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor) 
  • Patagonian Cavy (Dolichotis patagonum) 
  • Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) 
  • White-nosed Coatimundi (Nasua narica) 
  • White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) 
  • Screech Owls (Megascops asio) 
  • Sulcata Tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) 
  • Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) 
  • Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
  • Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) 

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Our northern raccoons are named Ricki (female) and Harley (male), and they were born in 2017. Ricki was kept illegally as a pet and was raised alongside three Yorkie dogs. She is very playful and loves to chase toy cars around. Ricki loves eating kibble and taking it “to-go” by eating out of her hand. Our raccoons also love to eat veggie omelets prepared by our animal care staff. Harley moved to North Texas when rehab space was needed during Hurricane Harvey. He loves to collect and play with rocks, storing them in the tub of water that he likes to lounge in. While raccoons are usually solitary animals, Ricki and Harley have bonded and are almost always together. Harley can get very protective over Ricki.

Our Patagonian cavy is named Nibbles, and he was born in 2009. He was bred by a veterinarian for the pet trade and has been with us for most of his long life. Cavies are prone to stress myopathy, which can be fatal. Our animal care staff lets Nibbles do things on his own terms to reduce any stress he may feel. Since cavies are a prey species, our staff has built him a lookout table to allow him to look for predators to reduce any anxiety. When he relaxes on his table, he likes to loaf like a cat. Our animal care staff also makes Nibbles his own food cakes from chow pellets and steamed vegetables that are easier for him to eat than crunchier, tougher foods. He also loves bananas, which are used whenever he needs to be moved into a crate. Nibbles can be heard purring very loudly when eating his favorite foods. Some other vocalizations guests may hear from him are squealing like a guinea pig, chirping, whistling, and chittering.

Our ring-tailed lemurs are named Bits (male) and Kibbles (female), and they were born around 2015. They were bred by backyard breeders in Austin. Since they did not produce any offspring, they were put on exotic animal internet auctions, purchased by an animal rescue facility, and then offered to the Heard Museum for rehoming. They are the Heard Museum’s most challenging animals. While they are extremely clever and intelligent, they can also be quite aggressive. They have very sharp teeth and nails and are not afraid to use them. Bits is more likely to be aggressive than Kibbles and can also get very jumpy. He also likes to mark the surfaces of his indoor and outdoor enclosures using the scent gland on his wrist. Kibbles loves any fruit the animal care staff offers and can sometimes scare Bits away from it to keep it to herself. She is definitely the one in charge. Both lemurs like all their fruits in the shape of French fries and are so excited by bananas that they can get unruly when offered one. Guests can tell Bits and Kibbles apart by their tails. Bits has a black tip on his tail, while Kibbles is missing hers.

Our white-nosed and mountain coatimundi are named Maya (female) and Manny (male). They were originally bred for the pet trade. They were rescued by a local zoo, which has since closed, and then offered to the Heard Museum. Though they were both declawed by their breeders, making it harder for them to dig and climb, they still manage very well! Maya can sometimes be spotted at the very top of the enclosure. Coatimundis like to rub scents that they like into their tails. If guests spot shoes or other unusual objects in their enclosure, they are being used for scent enrichment. Smell is very important to coatimundis, and they have long, flexible snouts that they use for foraging and investigating crevices and holes. White-nosed coatimundis have longer snouts than mountain coatimundis. Guests may sometimes be able to hear them communicating with each other through squeaks, grunts, and growls. They can sometimes sound like a squeaky toy!

Our white-tailed deer are named Fuzz, Trio, and Dawn and have affectionately been nicknamed “The Girls.” Fuzz came to us in 2010, Trio arrived shortly after in 2011, and Dawn arrived in 2021. Both Fuzz and Dawn arrived still feeding from a bottle. Fuzz, born in 2009, is the oldest of the three. She is imprinted on humans and is the dominant doe of the group. She loves attention from her keepers but only ever on her own terms. Trio was born in 2010 and lost a foot in rehab as a fawn. She needs humans to meet her needs but does not like close contact with them, which can make her care very difficult. Dawn, born in 2021, is our youngest doe. Originally, rehabbers had hoped she would be releasable, so she has an ear tag. Unfortunately, she needed more attention in rehab and would not leave with the rest of the fawns being released. She tore out her first two ear tags, tearing her ear, but has left this current one in. It will stay in until it presents any problems. Similar to the Patagonian cavy, white-tailed deer also suffer from stress myopathy. This means that both staff and visitors must be very gentle, careful, and calm when around them.

Our screech owls are named Pudge and Poe, and they were acquired by the Heard Museum in 2013 from Texas Parks and Wildlife. Pudge was found in the mouth of an English Mastiff, though it is uncertain if her eye injury came from the dog. Poe was found on the side of the road, seemingly hit by a car. Poe suffered severe eye trauma, leading to total collapse of the eye. Both owls were deemed non-releasable because of their eye injuries. Eastern screech owls have two color phases. Pudge is a red phase screech owl, and Poe is a gray phase screech owl. Roughly one-third of eastern screech owls are red. Male screech owls are smaller than females and have a deeper voice. While females are nesting and unable to hunt, the males provide all the food. They eat a variety of insects, mice, worms, and more. Guests can sometimes see our animal care staff taking the screech owls outside during the day to get some time outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine.

Our sulcata tortoise is named Herman, and he was acquired in 2012. Herman was a school library pet who was not fed or cared for properly. He had gravel in his intestines and green paint on his carapace. He is very prone to illnesses and respiratory problems; this is the reason why we only have certain cleaning agents we can use in the museum. It is also why he has no substrate lining his cage and needs an air purifier. Sulcatas are the third largest tortoise species in the world. Adults can average 70 to 100 pounds in weight, but upwards of 150 is not uncommon. Depending on their health, care, and environment, Sulcatas can also live anywhere from 50 to 120 years. A common sulcata behavior is to ram into objects and flip things over. Due to this behavior, you may see objects turned upside down in Herman’s enclosure or scratches on the glass. Herman also likes to go on walks every day with the Heard Museum animal care staff. On cold or rainy days, guests can see him going on laps throughout the museum and visiting other exhibits. On nice days, his keepers like to bring him outside for some extra enrichment.

Our snapping turtle, Mooch, was born in 2009 and acquired by the Heard Museum in 2014. In addition to Mooch, the Heard Museum has some snapping turtles living in the wetlands that can sometimes be spotted on sunny days when the water is clear. Snapping turtles are highly aquatic and can usually be found in freshwater, though sometimes they will be spotted in brackish water. They are most common in large, quiet bodies of water and may travel on land to other bodies of water during rainier seasons. They are omnivores and will eat aquatic vegetation, vertebrates, and invertebrates. Though usually docile, they will strike if they feel threatened or cornered. They usually try to swim away instead of attacking when approached in the water. However, on land where it is harder to escape, they will elevate their hindquarters, gape their jaw, and lunge like a snake.

Our bobcats are named Devon and Elliott and have been nicknamed “The Boys.” They were found in a burning brush pile as kittens. They needed prolonged, intense handling to save and treat them, which led to them imprinting on humans. Elliott had the worst burns. He was burned on his right front foot, shoulder, and ears. His toenails were also affected and still sometimes require treatment. Elliott can be distinguished from Devon by his coat’s redder/orange hue. He loves shoes, and his favorite activity is rubbing his scent on them. Devon is grayer than his brother. His favorite toys are ball pit balls and stuffed animals. He also likes to fish for diving rings in his tub of water. Both bobcats were target-trained with a tennis ball on the end of a stick. They also love to hunt if wild animals wander into their cage. Because of their natural predator behaviors, bobcats do not make good pets or playmates. Even imprinted bobcats like Devon and Elliott can be dangerous. This is why the Heard Museum keeps some distance between their cage and the fence and why only their favorite animal care staff members care for them.


Our gray fox is named Nikita, and she was born in 2021. Based on her social patterns and behavior, the Heard Museum believes Nikita was kept illegally as someone’s pet. The game warden declared her imprinted on humans and non-releasable, which is how she found her home here. She flops over for attention but can still be unpredictable since she is a wild animal with very sharp teeth. She loves her enrichment activities and interacting with her keepers.

Every Animal Ambassador is unique with its very specific needs.

Our Sponsorship program allows sponsors to help provide for these animal ambassadors and ensure their needs are met.

Learn more about Sponsoring an Animal Ambassador. 

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Visit Heard Museum’s Animal Encounters Trail Exhibit with a General Admission ticket!

Frequently Asked Questions

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Most all of the animals that live in captivity at the Heard Museum are abandoned pets or those that were illegally taken from the wild by people who quickly discovered that no wild animal makes a good pet. We do not collect animals from the wild nor do we encourage such activities by others. 


Many of these animals were not cared for properly and now have health or behavioral problems that make them unreleasable; they will always have to live in captivity. The Heard Museum’s mission is to inspire love and appreciation of nature in our visitors. Our hope is that these animal ambassadors will motivate our visitors to care deeply enough about the natural world to take steps to restore and preserve ecosystems here in North Texas and around the world.