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The Little Big Zoo in Gainesville, TX: Frank Buck Zoo

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Over on the west side of Gainesville, Texas, sits a zoo, the Frank Buck Zoo. Think twice if you think you have to fight traffic and drive to the city for a great zoo experience. The Frank Buck Zoo packs a whole bunch of animal action into about 12.5 acres in Gainesville’s Leonard Park. Don't miss out on the pictures below this article.

Who’d a Thunk It?

A man named A. Morton Smith founded The Gainesville Community Circus in 1930 at the then Cooke County Fair Park. A fire destroyed the circus in 1954, and the animals became a static “zoo” exhibit at Fair Park. When the zoo moved to its current location, it was called the Gainesville Zoo. In the 1970’s, the Zoological Society voted to rename it the Frank Buck Zoo.

Frank Buck, Gainesville native, and American film actor and director. collected wild animals from exotic parts of the world and had actually performed as the Ring Master for the circus in its heyday. There was no formal paid promotion of the zoo until the City of Gainesville expanded it decades later in 2004 and 2005.

In 2008, an exhibit opened that showcases Frank's personal items donated by his daughter, Barbara Buck.

Who Pays For The Zoo?

The Frank Buck Zoological Society is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that raises money to support animal exhibits and acquisition. The Red River American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) holds events throughout the year that raises awareness about conservation and supplemental funds for Frank Buck Zoo’s enrichment program. The zoo also operates an adult volunteer program.

Are You Looking For a Career with Animals?

Of course, the animals are the star attractions, but the Frank Buck Zoo is far evolved as one of the closest opportunities for young Texomans ages 14 to 18 interested in exploring careers that include zoology, wildlife veterinarians, animal behavior, conservation scientists, and more.

The Junior Zoo Crew at the Frank Buck Zoo are teenagers of all academic levels who volunteer their time to become trained in the use of bio-facts, animal behavioral enrichment, and to assist the Animal Care staff. The Junior Zoo Crew members also assist with helping zoo visitors, Summer Safari Day camps, zoo overnights, and special events. An application process and a fee apply.

What Can You See and Doo at the Frank Buck Zoo?

Some of the events that attract visitors from around the Texoma area and beyond include daily giraffe and flamingo feedings, Zoo Snooze, Zoo After Dark Series, summer camps Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the annual Frank Buck Birthday bash with a zoo-themed cake decorating contest, the Easter Eggstravaganza, and the Zoo Boo in October. The zoo features a mini train ride, above-ground boardwalks, and a playground.

What Says the Zoo Director?

The Frank Buck Zoo officials have gone above and beyond their call of duty to keep their animals safe from natural disasters. Susan Kleven, zoo director, won an award from Borden for her “single act” of coordinating a team to successfully evacuate animals to keep them out of harm’s way during a flood. In 2007, the Animal Care staff had to evacuate the animals five times within one month and repeated the same method in the 2015 floods. Susan gave us an extremely informative interview.

What Happens to the Animals When Texoma Floods?

We made several improvements to better facilitate evacuating animals in low-lying areas in the zoo including raising the levee around the zoo and the park. We also became the leading experts at evacuating animals due to the floods. As a result, during the flooding rains in 2015, we had moved our animals to higher ground long before the flood water rose in low-lying areas of the zoo.

How Many Animal Handlers Do You Employ?

We have nine dedicated, full-time Animal Care staffers and two full-time supervisors with extensive zoo animal care experience.

What Are the Decision-Making Factors When You Decide to Introduce a New Species of Any Animal Into the Zoo?

There are several factors. One is how well the species will acclimate in this climate because we are prone to high temperatures but also experience short snaps below freezing. Thus animals like moose, polar bear, and arctic penguins would be difficult to adequately provide for and keep comfortable in the high heat. Another consideration is our primary audience. As a small zoo, we cater to families with young children and seniors. We are easy to navigate, and visitors generally get closer to the animals than at the exhibits in larger zoos.

Personnel is also another important consideration because some species such as venomous snakes require highly specialized experienced Animal Care staff to provide the best care for the species. Finally, our budget is also a consideration. We must make sure that once an exhibit is built and paid for, we can continue to provide any specialized food or veterinary care the species may require for its optimal welfare.

How Do You Acquire Your Animals?

Most of our animal family members here at the Frank Buck Zoo come from other accredited zoological facilities. Some of the Birds of Prey that call Frank Buck Zoo home are here because they were unable to successfully return to the wild following their rehabilitation. Many of the reptiles were once someone’s pet until they outgrew their homes.

What Are the Most Popular Animals?

The giraffe are the most popular animals at the zoo, and I believe that is because visitors have an opportunity to make a personal connection with them during daily public giraffe feeding opportunities. Since we started offering our VIP Flamingo Feeding Experience, we have had several people interested in making a connection with these animated birds. In the future, we hope to offer a VIP Penguin experience that we think will be very popular. Of course, everyone has their favorites, from the cheetah to lemurs.

Concerning the Animals that Are on the Endangered or Vulnerable List, Are They More Difficult to Acquire?

Frank Buck Zoo is fortunate enough to have made important connections with several other accredited zoological facilities. There are often long waiting lists to acquire some of the threatened and endangered species. Frank Buck Zoo has developed an excellent reputation and has been fortunate to have become entrusted with the care of several highly coveted, threatened and endangered species like the clouded leopards, cheetah, and African penguins.

How Many of Your Animal Species Do You Try to Breed?

We are careful to try to only breed animals that we know will have good homes at other accredited zoological facilities. Some of the endangered species we are home to like the cheetahs and clouded leopards are same-sex pairs, so they will not be breeding. However, by working with these animals, we are gaining the species-specific knowledge needed so that one day we can possibly breed future animals of the same species when genetically desirable that will help maintain a viable population in human care.

But What About the Animals?

Most of Frank Buck Zoo’s animal species exhibits not mentioned above include these animals: African porcupine, alpaca, Benett’s wallaby, black bear, dromedary camel, capybara, coyote, domestic goats, Grant’s zebra, mini zebu, muntjac, Ostrich, python, red fox, red kangaroo, and tortoise.

A muntjac is a species of deer that originate from China. They are common in southern England today. Capybaras come from south Africa and are related to guinea pigs. Mini zebus are a small breed of cattle that date back thousands of years to India. The dromedary camel has one hump.

Special Attractions:

The “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” BUCK’S Birthday Celebration, held every March, celebrates the zoo with lower admission fees and a beautiful cake decorating contest judged by Gainesville city officials. The October Zoo Boo is billed as the wildest, non-scary, kid celebration in town and is the zoo’s second largest event of the year. The Red River AAZK hosts guided tours. This year’s Frank Buck Zoo Eggstravaganza happens on April 15th and advance tickets go on sale beginning April 6th.

Click Here For Upcoming Events


The little, big Frank Buck Zoo has captivated quite an audience with an annual number of visitors at 85,000. The next time you need to go to the I35 side of Texoma, consider visiting their animals especially if you have children ages 12 or under. You can even host a wild animal birthday party at Frank Buck Zoo.

Zoo Hours & Admission

For updated information about the Frank Buck Zoo, its educational programs, volunteer information, and events please:

Visit In Person At:

1000 W. California St.
Gainesville, TX, 76240

Visit The Zoo Website At:

Email The Zoo At:

Call The Zoo At:


Junior Zoo Crew Application:

You may send donations to The Frank Buck Zoological Society at:

PO Box 10, Gainesville, TX, 76240


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