Monroe’s HORN T ZOO continues to grow When Todd Laudenklos decided to build a zoo in Monroe, a lot of people thought he was a bit crazy. But he knew that hard work and a positive mindset can make dreams come true. “I always go back to the Field of Dreams,” he said. “If you build it, they will come.” They have indeed come. The Horn T Zoo opened in the summer of 2010 and attendance has steadily increased. Laudenklos’ love of animals began when he was growing up on a farm near Monroe. After high school, Laudenklos earned an agriculture degree and helped out on the family farm. He has also worked at the Columbus Sales Pavilion for 21 years and in exotic animal sales for 19 years. Soon, raising ordinary farm animals wasn’t enough for Laudenklos. He bought yaks, donkeys and watusis, an African cattle breed. Next came a zebra. During the summer, those animals spent time in an enclosure alongside Highway 30 on the west edge of Monroe. Every once in a while, motorists passing by would notice it grazing and pull in to ask if they could get a closer look. Laudenklos realized how much he enjoyed sharing his animals with visitors, sparking the idea to build a zoo. Despite some misgivings from friends and family, Laudenklos began erecting a building in 2009. The following summer, he was open for business along with the help of his parents, Harry and Sharon, and coowner Randy Fischer. Today, the zoo has grown to include more than 40 species of animals including spider and capuchin monkeys, ringtail lemurs, bears, a Siberian lynx, an African porcupine, albino prairie dogs and raccoons, alligators, a coatimundi and kangaroos. The Horn T Zoo was a destination in the Nebraska Passport program last year which helped draw tourists from around the state and boost knowledge of the zoo. “I love for people to come out and see what I have,” he said. Laudenklos said the zoo is an easy trip for local families, but admits it can be a hard sell for families closer to larger zoos in Lincoln and Omaha. However, he said more and more families are making the trip, especially those with small children. The hands-on approach and the “up close and personal” atmosphere is great for kids who love to interact with animals. They can feel the skin of an alligator, pet bunnies, feed a bear and watch lemurs play from a few feet away. Laudenklos said the zoo doesn’t make a lot of money. Most of his profit, goes right back to the animals. But he wants to keep his entry fees reasonable, so all families can enjoy the zoo. Many can’t make the trip to Omaha or Lincoln and pay the higher prices to gain entry to zoos there. “I want to make it so everyone can come and enjoy themselves,” he said. Since it’s opening, the zoo has only been open in the summer. Laudenklos sent most of his animals away to spend the winter in a warmer climate with friends and other zoos. That all changed this winter when Laudenklos put up a new winter barn. “Now, they are warm and comfortable all winter at home,” he said. Laudenklos is hoping to expand his season into the spring and early fall. The zoo’s growing popularity has prompted Laudenklos to cut down on the hours he works at the Columbus Sales Pavilion. In addition to being open during the weekends in the summer, he spends a lot of time traveling with some of his zoo crew to fairs and festivals around the state. He also takes some of the smaller exotic animals to visit nursing home residents. They, like all the visitors to the zoo, enjoy their time with the animals. “It’s one of the best things you can give them,” Laudenkos said. 8 GENERATOR 37692 State Highway 22, Monroe, NE Visit the Horn T Zoo on Facebook.
Above: Todd Laudenklos pets his yak Molly. She is among more than 40 species of animals at the Horn T Zoo on the west edge of Monroe. Photos by Julie Blum/Columbus Telegram. SPRING 2018 9