I love animals! I love reading about animals, looking at pictures of animals, but mostly, I love seeing real live animals. Recently, I got the chance to visit Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo and was able to see, learn about, and even interact with amazing animals from all over the world right here in the Bluegrass!
Kentucky Down Under is an incredible place that is home to animals from North America and Australia. Couple Bill and Judy Austin opened the zoo in 1990. Bill, a Kentuckian, and Judy, an Australian, first met in New Zealand in the late 1960s. Fast forward a few years and they moved to Bill’s hometown of Horse Cave, Kentucky to take over the family cave-tour business (more on that later). Bill and Judy began introducing animals to the property for visitors to see between tours, eventually adding some of the Australian animals Judy had once kept as pets. Now, the tradition continues as visitors can tour the cave and explore paths full of marvelous animals.
I visited on one of the grossest days of the year (think cold with sleet) and had the BEST time – so I can’t even imagine how much better Kentucky Down Under is when the weather is nice!
Special thanks to Cameron Hesson of Cameron Hesson Photography for the images used in this post and Mick McGill, Director of Animal Management at Kentucky Down Under, for showing us around the property.
Like I said above, Kentucky Down Under is home to many animals from the Americas and Australia. One thing that I think is especially wonderful, though, is that many of their North American animal residents are rescued! As far as the Australian critters, some were brought over, but many (especially the kangaroos!) were born here and hand raised. Mick McGill (who has been with the zoo for a year and a half) and his team do a great job with all of these animals – most of them have better diets than any human I know.
Molasses the Sloth
Y’all. I love sloths. I think they’re one of the most interesting, amazing animals on this planet. They sleep like 20 hours a day, hang out on their branch, and climb down every so often to use the bathroom. They have it made! Naturally, I was super excited (and somehow managed to keep my cool) when Mick introduced me to Molasses. Molasses is Kentucky Down Under’s resident two-toed sloth. He hangs out on his branch in a heated, humidity controlled room and eats fruits and veggies from all over the world. The room has to be kept as humid as possible or Molasses will actually dry out!
Mick has been working with Molasses for quite some time and told me I could pet him so, naturally, I did! His fur was much softer than I had expected it to be. Mick has been arranging “Sloth Encounters” every so often so visitors can meet Molasses, which you can find out about by following their Facebook page!
Update July 2019: Unfortunately, Molasses has passed away.
Friends who Fly
There are tons of vibrant, beautiful birds throughout Kentucky Down Under. We visited in the winter, so most of the birds were in a heated facility (not their usual displays off the visitor path). Mick walked us through and showed us tons of birds, including several types of parrots and even kookaburras.
One of their kookaburra is basically famous, as he has appeared on a number of news stations and even Jay Leno! Mick showed us how the kookaburras “laugh” and it was reminded me of how typical dads laugh after telling what they think is a funny joke. It went on and on and was much louder than I would have expected. Their laughs are infectious and had us laughing along.
While in the winter house, we learned that parrots can live for a really long time (think 50-100 years!). The birds also love to chat and will be more than happy to show you their language skills, some have even picked up some naughty words from visitors over the years.
Some of the birds, though, can handle colder weather because they’re Kentucky natives! Kentucky Down Under has partnered with Fish and Wildlife to care for some birds who can’t exactly survive on their own any more. My favorite is a black vulture named Voldemort, who has some neurological issues that cause his body to shake. I also loved the two peacocks that roam the property, who were just abandoned there by their owner years ago. Kentucky Down Under will even aide animals that they don’t house on the property, which you can follow along with on their Facebook.
Finally, there’s the interactive bird exhibit where visitors can feed lories. They basically flock you as soon as you open the door! These little birds are so brightly colored and are incredibly friendly. One lory is super smart and will eat through the bottom of the feeding cup while others drink from the top. Be sure to take a camera cause there will be a great photo-op in the Land of Lories.
Doggos of All Sizes
Dogs, doggos, puppers, pups…whatever you call our canine friends Kentucky Down Under has lots of them! First up are the Dingoes. Dingoes are native to Australia and have these gorgeous orangey coats. Kentucky Down Under’s dingoes are purebred, which is becoming pretty rare worldwide as dingoes are being bred with domesticated dogs. These pups are absolutely stunning and incredible to see!
KDU is also home to two rescued North American Gray Wolves. The wolves are a brother and sister pair (pictured above); you might notice that the female has short legs, which is because she is a dwarf! The wolves are super friendly since they were raised by humans – they’ll even come up to the side of the fencing so visitors can pet them!
KDU rescued to two utterly stunning arctic foxes from a fur farm. I had always thought that arctic foxes were all white, but that isn’t the case! Arctic foxes can be bred to be colorful for fur. I’m so happy that Kentucky Down Under was able to rescue these gorgeous foxes from a gruesome fate at a fur farm.
A visit to KDU isn’t complete without a visit from one of the several domesticated dogs running around the park. One hilarious border collie named Pretty Girl accompanied us around the property during our visit. Mick told us that Pretty Girl broke a paw as a puppy and loved the attention her little cast got her. Now, she sometimes fakes a limp (in any foot, not necessarily the one she broke) to get the attention she deserves and to hitch rides on golf carts.
Ring-tailed lemurs were one of my favorite animals growing up because of the television show Zoboomafoo. For those who aren’t familiar, Zooboomafoo was a PBS show where two human hosts and their lemur friend (Zooboomafoo) taught kids how to respect and care for animals. I watched it every single day. When Mick told me that Kentucky Down Under had ring-tailed lemurs, I got so excited to see a furry friend like my childhood favorite.
Come to find out, lemurs can be a bit territorial! One female is kind of the ring leader (pun intended) of any group of lemurs. Kentucky Down Under has 2 female ring-tailed lemurs and it was kind of funny seeing how differently they act. The leader screamed, climbed on the screen, and wouldn’t take her eyes off of us. The other lemur just sat on a ledge and chilled out. We saw them in their little heated house that’s connected to their enclosure, but they’re typically out in the outdoor area hanging out!
“The Outback” is a big fenced in area that houses the kangaroos, wallabies, emu, cavies, and sulcata tortoises. The sulcata tortoises were “wintering” inside with the birds when we visited, so we weren’t able to check out their speed in the Outback. The cavies are one of the only animals in the park from South America (the sloth being the other), only they’re from the shrubby part. Cavies are kind of like giant guinea pigs with rabbit-like legs. Cavies natural habitat is super similar to the Australian Outback, which is why mixing them in with kangaroo, wallabies, and tortoises makes sense.
Emu roam around the Outback. They’re huge, but don’t let them intimidate you, they probably just want food. You might even get a great picture of them staring down your camera. You’ll notice that the wallabies at Kentucky Down Under are white. This is because of a genetic mutation that turns their fur white. These white wallabies don’t survive very long in the wild, so it’s good to have places like Kentucky Down Under that let them thrive!
Finally, we come to the kangaroos, which are probably what Kentucky Down Under is most famous for. Kentucky Down Under currently has 32 kangaroos, all of which are either red kangaroo or eastern grey kangaroo. All the kangaroos were hand raised, so they’re pretty used to being around people. Don’t be surprised if they come up to you as you walk around the Outback and nudge you with their heads.
We visited the kangaroo in the barn because it had started to sleet and they headed inside. While in there, many of them came up and licked me (one really liked liking my boots) and nuzzled their heads into my hands for pets. One kangaroo mama even let me pet the joey who peeked his head outside of her pouch! I expected the kangaroo to have kind of course hair since it was so short, but they were so unbelievably soft! If you ever get the chance to interact with a kangaroo, take it (especially if it’s at Kentucky Down Under!).
Our last animal-oriented stop at Kentucky Down Under was the Woolshed, which houses a handful of the petting zoo animals because they’re having babies! We saw lots of baby goats who would jump over the ledges that separated their mamas from other mamas. It was quite comical. Spring is a great time to see baby farmyard animals – especially now that lambing (aka baby lambs) season is starting!
Before it was a zoo, the main attraction at Kentucky Down Under was Mammoth Onyx Cave. The cave was first discovered by 10-year old Martha Woodson in 1799 and quickly became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area when it opened for tours in the 1820s. In fact, signatures of early visitors (which are basically graffiti) can be found all over the cave walls! These early visitors touched everything, so there’s some discoloration in some of the cave formations from the oils on their hands.
Mammoth Onyx Cave is an active cave, which means that it is still (very slowly) growing! Water drips down through the ceiling of the cave when it rains, runs through the stalactites, and down into the cave. Stalactite/stalagmite caves are rarer in this area of Kentucky as most of the caves are river caves. You’ll learn all about “cave popcorn” or “cave cauliflower” while visiting and might even get to glimpse some cave critters (like cave crickets, bats, and these really rare salamander).
Visiting Kentucky Down Under
Kentucky Down Under is conveniently located right off of I-65, making it super accessible and the perfect stop on any road trip. Plus, there’s a hung billboard beside the visitor center – you actually can’t miss it. You’ll park in front of the blue visitor center and head on in!
Kentucky Down Under is open from 9AM-4PM daily, with the last tickets sold at 2PM. They’re pretty close to where the time zone changes, so you should note they are in the central time zone. Ticket prices range a bit, costing $25.95 for adults, $15.95 for kids, and $19.95 for seniors, military, college students, first responders, and CDL holders. AAA members can also get 10% off. Take a peek on Groupon to see if KDU has any ticket deals going on! There are a few optional additional charges for feeding animals ($1 per exhibit), gem mining, and food at the Outback Cafe.
The trails are laid out well, so getting around inside Kentucky Down Under is easy. You can also rent golf carts to get around, which I recommend doing on days where the weather might not be ideal. You’ll definitely want to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty, as you’ll walk through animal habitats and an active cave.
This visit was the first time I’d been to Kentucky Down Under since I was a little girl and it was even more magical than I remembered! I am absolutely planning on visiting again in very soon and cannot recommend visiting enough. The staff is so kind and truly care about the animals, the animals are all incredible, and the campus is gorgeous. You should definitely make visiting Kentucky Down Under a priority!