Focus: Elk, Sicilian donkeys and bison, oh my!

A llama enjoys the beautiful sunshine at the Cody Park Animal Display in North Platte on Thursday. A pair of Sicilian donkeys can bee seen in the background. Sicilian donkeys actually have darker hair in the shape of a cross on their backs. Some believe this is a sign of the trip taken by the Virgin Mary on the back of a donkey on her trip to Bethlehem.

North Platte’s “community pets” bring enjoyment and give folks the opportunity to share a few moments with beautiful animals.

Cody Park is home to a U.S. Department of Agriculture display of animals of varying types. There are Sicilian donkeys, llamas, bison, elk, deer and birds of different feathers.

Parks Director Lyle Minshull said the animals are very popular with area residents.

“We’ve had some interesting animals such as ostriches and emus,” Minshull said. “We’ve had pygmy goats and mouflon sheep.”

He said the goats, however, didn’t last very long.

“The pygmy goats had quite the aroma,” Minshull said. “They urinated on themselves to create that male-female thing.”

Many folks were concerned because a pair of swans disappeared, Minshull said.

“Apparently swans are not compatible with elk,” Minshull said. “Swans are territorial and so are elk.”

Minshull said territorialism was the reason for acquiring the swans in the first place.

“We thought maybe they would keep the numbers of the goose population down,” Minshull said. “One swan got into a fight with the elk and it lost the battle.”

The fight was witnessed by some park visitors, Minshull said.

“It was out on the island,” Minshull said. “We turn the elk loose in the summertime so he can roam around.”

He said one swan had died before the elk fight, but neither death was attributed to the aerator being shut down. Previously a pair of swans were lost because of a lack of open water.

“But then we put the aerator in after we learned they have to have some open water,” Minshull said. “So we did put that in to save the swans. The reason for the aerator was not for the geese, but for the swans.”

The elk survived the fight, but it appears he may have lost a good portion of one of his antlers, although there is no credible evidence to support the supposition.

There are many other animals including blue herons that nested in a tree on the south side of the lake last summer. Three babies were seen in the large nest, and many people enjoyed watching them grow.

“There was also a nest that had some baby owls in it,” Minshull said. “It looks like the owls took over a nest that was abandoned by a second set of blue herons.”

There are various deer including the fallow, mule deer and whitetails.

“Right now we have sika deer,” Minshull said.

The sika deer is also known as the spotted deer or the Japanese deer and is a species native to much of East Asia, according to Wikipedia.

Although folks like to feed the animals, Minshull encourages them to use the feed that is available around the display.

“Bread is not good for the animals because it tends to expand in their stomach,” Minshull said. “For many of the larger animals, corn is not a good food for them either.”

The display can be viewed either on foot or through automobile windows, and there is no charge to enjoy the unique animals.

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