Austin Stories B. C. – It Was a Zoo

My attempt to share stories for each letter of the alphabet featuring our life in Austin B.C. (Before Children) 1975-1985. The 70s were a long time ago. 26 stories were a stretch for my brain, so I cheated and left out X and Y, meaning I have FINALLY made it to the letter Z!

The prompt photo features a young couple.

Perhaps they are recently married and have just rented an apartment in a new city where they are looking forward to an exciting new life together.

My husband and I were not really looking for a place to live where there was “never a dull moment,” but it seems we had our share of moments while living at River Hills. There was The Clown Next Door, Breaking and Entering, and the final “moment” for us – the Bats.

But well before the bat incident, there was the guy with the cougar and the chimp and whatever else he had in his apartment.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, Tx), 21 Oct 1977

We already knew about the cougar. My husband had seen it chained up on the ground level patio of an apartment in another part of the complex. There was no fence or any kind of barrier – just a cougar that anyone could walk right up to. Besides the story in the newspaper, the owner of the cougar, Ted Wenk, was interviewed for the local news stations. I distinctly remember an emphasis by the reporters that the thieves should be very careful with the poison darts and consider turning them in.

A similar article with a different family portrait…

Austin American Statesman (Austin, Tx), 22 Oct 1977

Just a few days later, Ted was in the news again.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 26 Oct 1977

It is hard to believe that the apartment manager didn’t know there were wild animals about. I mean, my husband saw the cougar when he was just walking around. And imagine the noise made by 40 parrots, a chimpanzee, and a cougar!

We didn’t live close to his apartment, so other than talking about the novelty and idiocy of the situation, we didn’t keep up with the guy – didn’t remember his name, didn’t know anything else about him.

I didn’t find a followup story about lawsuit over the biting chimp, but I found some other information about our former “neighbor.” Turns out, Ted Wenk had quite a story.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 07 Sep 1978

We don’t remember anything about a renters’ strike or going without water. I guess the water issue didn’t affect our building. Ted won this case.

About a year later, someone was accused of trying to steal two black leopards from Mr. Wenk.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 23 Oct 1979

River Hills Apartments were on streets that intersected Riverside Dr. Sometime before 1980, Mr. Wenk was keeping his animals farther out Riverside Dr. in a less populated area. It seems law enforcement may have been familiar with him, or at least with his animals. Ted denied that the big black cat was one of his.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 21 Jun 1980

By 1982, Ted Wenk had moved east of Austin to the town of Bastrop and opened Wild World Animal Park.

Austin American Statesman (Austin TX) 28 May 1982

A few months later Ted Wenk was featured in a lengthy article about people keeping large cats as pets.


“Oh, they’re as tame as a house cat,” said Ted Wenk, owner of the Wild World of Cats near Bastrop. He owns 28 exotic cats. “But consider they are a 600-pound house cat. You step on its tail and it might disembowel you. They are big and they are mean.”

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 19 Oct 1982

I seriously don’t understand people.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 24 Sep 1983

In early December of 1983, Ted was showing off two extremely rare white tiger cubs born at his zoo.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 04 Dec 1983

At the end of December, Ted posed with his children and was the subject of columnist John Kelso. One might conclude that Mr. Wenk didn’t shy away from media attention.

The article included another photo, this time with a python and a baboon.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 27 Dec 1983

Remember those rare white tigers cubs? They went missing. Were they sold? Or eaten?

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 24 Jan 1984

Wow! Another litter of rare white tigers.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 29 Apr 1984

Things took a turn for the worse in Ted Wenk’s life. He was arrested on a drug charge … and those expensive white tiger cubs he sold to a zoo in OK turned a darker hue.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 16 Sep 1984

The crime committed by Mr. Wenk seems not to have been as serious as first thought, but he believed he must move because he had lost community support for his zoo and he was losing money.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 13 Nov 1984

I guess Ted changed his mind about moving. A newspaper article published in 1986 about a veterinarian mentions Ted and his zoo, located between Austin and Bastrop.

And then things really took a turn for the worse. Ted Wenk was reported missing by his 17-year-old son.

Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX) 23 Jul 1

Ted Wenk was never found. His zoo closed in disarray.

Austin American Statesman 14 Oct 1990

This isn’t the first time that I started writing a post for this series and chased the story well beyond my little memory. I don’t remember hearing about Ted Wenk’s death, or if I did, making the connection to our shared time at River Hills.

I have to say I am glad to be finished with this series. I tired of writing so many stories in a row based on my own life and not writing about the ancestors – or at least others in the family. But now a few of our stories are documented bits of family lore along side older stories.

I began with the young couple in the prompt photo and I’ll end with a photo of the young couple who were the characters in this series – my husband and me.

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6 thoughts on “Austin Stories B. C. – It Was a Zoo

  1. Wow! What a story! Never a dull moment? I wish I could live in a River Hills apartment just to be able to tell a tale like this. Lion, tigers, bears, and Pflugerville panthers, oh my! And probably flying monkeys too!

  2. My mom worked for Ted around 82-83. There was some interesting stuff going on at Wild World in those days, and she wasn’t comfortable with some of it, so she left.

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