The Wild Side of West Virginia

February 8, 2018


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The Wild Side of West Virginia

By Maggie Matsko

With West Virginia’s rugged and rural terrain, there’s an expectation for the Mountain State to be rich with wildlife. While spectators visiting the state can easily study all kinds of species common to the area, three zoos in West Virginia give the term wildlife a whole new meaning.

Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo

Since 1992, Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo has been captivating families in Kingwood with its large collection of wildlife. The family-owned and operated zoo, which will celebrate 26 years in April 2018, is home to about 400 animals, including giraffes, chimpanzees, grizzly bears, African lions, white and orange Bengal tigers, Russian wild boar, ringtail lemurs, Himalayan bears, Japanese macaques, aoudads, spotted and black leopards, African pygmy goats, miniature donkeys, olive baboons, buffalo, bobcats, camels and spider, grivet and capuchin monkeys, as well as various reptiles.

Upon admission, guests can purchase animal food packages to hand-feed the giraffes, goats, llamas, deer and other hoofstock animals. Hovatter’s also has an enclosed exhibit with more than 400 parakeets where families can go in and feed the birds.

“We love for our visitors to get the rare opportunity to get close to our furry friends and experience their kind and friendly behavior,” says Darby Grimm, a gift shop manager at Hovatter’s.

Hovatter’s hosts several events throughout the year for the public, including a back-to-school event and Boo at the Zoo, for which children can dress up and go trick-or-treating on the zoo’s grounds.

Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., April to October. For more information, visit

Oglebay Good Zoo

In 1977, the Oglebay Good Zoo was dedicated in memory of 7-year-old Philip Mayer Good so families could find happiness through a renewed appreciation of the world’s creatures.

Located in Wheeling on the property of Oglebay Resort & Conference Center, the zoo is home to more than 60 species, including the hellbender salamander, Burmese python, meerkat, ring-tailed lemur, mongoose lemur, cotton-top tamarin, golden lion tamarin, two-toed sloth, Andean bear, Grevy’s zebra, red-necked wallaby, cheetah, bald eagle, red panda, Chinese goral and reindeer, as well as a variety of domestic animals.

The zoo offers animal encounter programs through which guests can accompany animal keepers to learn about the care of a variety of the zoo’s species while assisting the keeper with feeding and training. The Keeper for a Day program is offered for younger guests who are interested in becoming zookeepers or conservation biologists. Guests are also able to
experience the interactive, experiential enclosures that include the lorikeet feeding aviary, goat contact area and walk-through kangaroo exhibit.

Every year, the Oglebay Good Zoo provides programming to more than 130,000 guests and 13,000 students. Several of its special events have become family traditions, including the Easter Treasure Hunt; Festival of Lights celebration with the Winter Fantasy Laser Show, animated lights show and Santa’s Reindeer Training School; and the most popular event, Boo at the Zoo.

“The Good Zoo is incredibly family- and kid-friendly due to our rural, natural setting with many trees for shade and large, spaced-out enclosures that enable guests to easily see the animals without having to worry about large crowds,” says Joe Greathouse, the zoo’s director.

The Oglebay Good Zoo is open year-round. For more information, visit

West Virginia State Wildlife Center

The West Virginia State Wildlife Center, under the management of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, is the best place to experience state wildlife in a natural habitat. Located in North Central West Virginia, the wildlife center is known for its modern facility and display of native and introduced wildlife. A wheelchair-accessible inter­pretive trail runs 1.25 miles through the forest, allowing guests to experience wildlife up close. Signage posted along the trail informs guests about the animals.

The wildlife center is home to a vast array of animals, including elk, buffalo, river otters, mountain lions, white-tailed deer, gray wolves, red and gray fox, black bears, coyotes, wild boar and bobcats. Visitors will observe a variety of reptiles, such as the copperhead snake, timber rattlesnake and black rat snake, and experience a host of winged residents, including Eastern screech-owls, barred owls, great horned owls, bald and golden eagles, wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks and ring-neck pheasants.

In addition to the trail, the wildlife center offers special events for animal lovers of all ages. In February, the center celebrates Groundhog Day with its very own weather prognosticator, French Creek Freddie. The center also offers events on West Virginia Day and invites raptor rehabilitation centers, reptile specialists and fishery specialists to the grounds during this special holiday. During the first weekend in August, the center opens a primitive-style camp called Rendezvous that provides visitors with an interactive glimpse into history with reenactors. In October, the center also offers fall hayrides and Spooky Night Tours to get in the Halloween spirit.

“The wildlife center provides an up-close glimpse of more than 25 different species of animals, and simply being around our wide variety of wildlife is a huge draw for families and guests of all ages,” says Tyler Evans, a wildlife biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

The West Virginia State Wildlife Center is open year-round. For more information, visit

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