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Animal rescue partnership brings mobile fair and petting zoo to UWT

In partnership with UWT, a family-owned nonprofit animal rescue, Big Bruce’s Rescue Zoo is coming to the Tioga lot for a weekend fair.  

A recent partnership between the University of Washington Tacoma and a nonprofit animal rescue organization will be coming to the Tioga Parking lot on April 1. 

The family-owned nonprofit and petting zoo, Big Bruce’s Rescue Zoo, named after a muscular wallaby, was founded in 2010 by Robert Clarke, a former zoologist from Tacoma. 

The petting zoo will feature Big Bruce, a 15-year-old, 42-pound wallaby, along with other mammals like a camel, miniature horses and a small herd of sheep and goats. The rescue is offering camel rides for children ages 8-14 and miniature horse rides for ages 4-8. 

“Please come out, enjoy some educational experiences with both exotic creatures like Big Bruce and our beloved rescue farm animals,” said Nathaniel Cooper, a close friend and farmhand for the Clarke family. 

University students and children can enjoy a free playdate in a fenced pen with straw, hay bales and a small herd of hooved farm animals. The herd consists of three gray sheep, two Nigerian Dwarf goats and one playful pigmy goat. 

“Watch out for the pigmy goat though, he has little goat syndrome like a small dog has little dog syndrome. He thinks he’s big and tough, and he’ll head-butt you,” Cooper said. 

Large carport-style tents, food vendors, picnic and display tables, benches and temporary fencing will be set up by late Friday night. The Tioga lot will be filled with these attractions, various food trucks, a livestock trailer and a large flatbed trailer until late Sunday night. 

Setup for the event will begin April 1 at 1 p.m. and any students taking afternoon or evening classes on Friday are expected to find parking elsewhere. The petting zoo will open April 2 at 10 a.m. and run until cutoff time at 5 p.m., when the animals are put to bed for the night before traveling home Sunday. 

“The set-up process should only take half a day, but the tear-down process on Sunday is expected to be a little longer. You’d think it wouldn’t really be this much work for a one-day fair, but it is. We have to clean up after the animals,” said Amelia Clarke, the event manager. 

Amelia Clarke, Robert Clarke’s daughter, assists in running the rescue program, occasionally traveling with her father and the animals across Washington for educational opportunities. 

“The story about Big Bruce was that he was an orphan at a local zoo, and they didn’t have room for wallabies in their budget anymore. They trusted my dad to take him in, considering his experience and qualifications in zoology,” Clarke said. 

Since 2010, Clarke’s father has expanded the rescue to include animals that survived being hit by a car, like their big rescue dog, Lucky. They adopted him from Angel Skies Animal Rescue in California and flew the dog in the cargo hold of an airplane to his home in Washington with the Clarke family. 

An illustrated Google Earth representation of the vendors, attractions and children’s petting zoo in the Tioga parking lot. Art by Cole

Two of the sheep, named Wool Smith and Shaun the Sheep, were also injured in a truck accident on a farm. Both sheep went lame shortly afterward and were retired from breeding at the farm. They were sold at an auction at 8 years old, just like the miniature horses the Clarke family saved two years ago from a kill pen. 

“Getting the sheep was the perfect opportunity to teach kids about the wool industry and U.S. Agriculture, and how wool socks or clothes are made, so I made a PowerPoint presentation with Amelia’s help to present to our visitors,” Robert Clarke said. 

Clarke plans to sheer the sheep on site at the event to show children how much work is involved in maintaining their overall health and happiness. 

“The sheep and goats will scream for attention as you walk by their pen, so don’t be surprised if you hear what sounds like a crying baby,” Clarke said. 

Clarke minored in Agricultural Sciences at Evergreen State College and graduated with a master’s degree in Zoology in 1980. He expanded his rescue to farm animals when he was introduced to the sheep, but he grew up around miniature horses and goats, which his parents owned on their farm. 

Clarke inherited his parents’ two surviving goats when they moved to Oregon for their dream retirement. He wanted to keep the goats in the family rather than rehome them, so he used them to educate children and their parents about animal husbandry on a farm. 

“We also offer a free educational opportunity, a one-hour farm animal husbandry class on Saturday, which will be free, in partnership with the university,” said event staff worker Susan Jackson of Big Bruce’s Rescue Zoo. 

There will be a vendor gift shop with handcrafted materials located toward the front of the parking lot. All proceeds from the gift shop will support the nonprofit in their efforts to save and rehome new animals. 

There will be food vendors and picnic tables on site for people to sit, eat and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. The rescue chose not to bring their llamas, as they didn’t want them to spit on the public.  

Entry is free for the event, though camel and miniature horse rides will require tickets, which can be purchased at the ticket booth. Lucky the rescue dog can be found walking around the ticket booth area next to Big Bruce’s temporary wallaby enclosure. 

Everyone who normally parks in lot 19050 is expected to find parking elsewhere on or near campus for the weekend. The rescue organization apologizes for any inconvenience to students, staff or faculty of UWT, since it’s not possible to park on top of the tents. 

“Nigerian Pigmy Goat” by Just chaos is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Photo by Creative Commons.

A big wallaby in a field in captivity at a zoo (Peter O’Connor). Licensed under CC BY 2.0. Photo by Creative Commons.