Board of Directors
In the early 1970s, Fort Worth businessman Tom Mantzel had a penchant for making money in oil and a passion for exotic animals. In 1973, he purchased the Waterfall Ranch, an exotic game ranch. He renamed the place Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch and enthusiastically set about adding to the exotic hoof stock that he found there. What begun as a weekend retreat for Tom soon became a full-time obsession.
Growing concern over loss of wild habitat and species extinction compelled Tom to experiment in captive breeding at Fossil Rim. In 1982, he brought Grevy’s Zebra to the ranch in his first effort to propagate an endangered species. Fossil Rim became the first ranch to participate in a Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA). Success with the Grevy’s SSP spurred work with other endangered animals such as the African addax.
By 1984, the near collapse of the petroleum industry was in full swing and hurting the Texas economy. To continue financing his species propagation programs, Tom decided to open the ranch to the public. With his small staff, he built a 9-mile road through 1,400 acres of hills, pastures and forests. Fossil Rim eventually opened a snack bar, a souvenir stand and introduced three new species - the Grant’s zebra, ostrich and reticulated giraffe.
Before long, Tom developed a volunteer program to help with the many school groups, scouts, organizations and individuals who wanted to see the unusual ranch with the extraordinary animals. While having fun and seeing new sights, people also were learning about animals, their habitats and the need to save endangered species. Fossil Rim had developed a personality, a life of its own - people were becoming aware of the facility and its mission. And though initially Tom hadn’t planned for his ranch to become a public attraction, he liked the interaction he saw between visitors and the animals.
Fossil Rim experienced great successes with its early propagation programs. In 1985, the ranch acquired additional endangered species, including the African scimitar-horned oryx. After lengthy communications with permitting offices, Tom also persuaded the U.S. government to allow him to import six cheetahs from South Africa. The cheetah program has grown into Fossil Rim’s greatest propagation success story with more than 125 cheetahs being born at Fossil Rim.
By 1987, Tom’s losses in the oil industry caused him to take a hard look at Fossil Rim. He realized the high maintenance costs of the ranch were draining him financially, but he refused to turn his back on the animals he loved. When he could no longer bear the costs of the ranch, Tom began a search for a partner.
Jim Jackson and Christine Jurzykowski were about to set sail on their own voyage of discovery. Each had worked hard to build successful, independent careers, and now they were ready for more. While building their sailboat in Denmark, Jim and Christine happened to see a television program on the wildlife propagation efforts of John Aspinall, an English businessman turned conservationist. The story struck a chord in both Jim and Christine, who already were committed to conservation, but were looking for a hands-on way to take action. The images of one man’s work to save endangered species were powerful and provocative. The fact that he was successfully breeding wild animals that might otherwise disappear drove home a crucial point—one person really can make a difference. Although Jim and Christine had long supported conservation efforts philosophically and financially, they had no actual experience with wildlife. The idea that they could develop a wildlife preserve much as Aspinall had done and make a substantial contribution to conservation had enormous impact upon their lives. Without any background in wildlife science other than personal interest, Jim and Christine had a lot to learn. They researched the subject voraciously, planning to buy land on the Caribbean island of Martinique to develop as a wildlife preserve for land and marine animals. It was while seeking advice from animal propagation experts that they first learned of Fossil Rim.
When Tom Mantzel heard about their inquiries, he approached Jim and Christine about participating in Fossil Rim. After discussing Tom’s goals for the ranch and his financial difficulties, they decided to help.
Initially, Jim and Christine advanced Tom operational funds for the ranch. Shortly after that, they learned that foreclosure was imminent. Realizing they had to make the ultimate commitment or witness the loss of Fossil Rim and its wildlife, Jim and Christine negotiated to buy the ranch. After a difficult transition that took them from partnership to outright ownership, the ranch became Fossil Rim Wildlife Center on May 7, 1987.
Fossil Rim is the first facility of its kind to have been accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center participates in a worldwide network of wildlife conservation organizations working to restore the delicate balance between people, animals and the environment. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center represents over 1000 animals, 50 species of native and non-native animals living peacefully at the ~1,700-acre center.
Extinction happens every day at an alarming rate. Find out why this matters, and what you can do to save wildlife before it’s too late.