From Capybaras to Camels: Exploring Little Crooked Creek’s Unusual Menagerie of Love

by Patti Nickel

You know the old adage, “getting there is half the fun?”  That certainly holds true if your destination is Little Crooked Creek Safari on the border of Anderson and Shelby Counties. You’ll want to slow down and savor the almost primeval beauty of the dense forest that shelters the creek as it lives up to its name – snaking around bends in the road, becoming visible at every turn. Under the canopy of thick trees, the sun doesn’t often break through.  When it does manage to penetrate the tree canopy, it hits the water with the brilliance of thousands of tiny diamonds.

The drive will convince you of just how beautiful this part of the commonwealth is.

The second part of the adage is that the other half of the fun comes once you arrive at your destination.

At Little Cooked Creek Safari, animal lovers of all ages can indulge their desire to get up close and personal with species both domestic and wild.  At the same time, they get a healthy dose of education about their care and feeding, and learn about the habitat the animals come from, and how they have adapted to their new home.

Owner Eric Swisher is landlord to some 200 animals representing 20 to 25 different species, from the common guinea pig and rabbit to the less common (in this part of the world) Patagonian Gavy from Argentina and Scimitar Horned Onyx from North Africa.  Each has its story to tell.

There’s the Watusi cow, who despite its wicked-looking horns, loves nothing better than getting a vigorous neck rub.

Then there’s the capybara, native to South America.  If you think it looks like a much, much, much cuter rat with its whiskers and twitching nose, that’s because it’s actually the largest rodent in the world – an adult can weigh as much as 174 pounds.

In contrast to its intimidating size, however, the capybara is the Animal Kingdom’s chillest member, and is actually known for making friends with household pets.

You’ll laugh at the group of alpacas – one of which appears to be having a very bad hair day – that run to the fence every time a visitor approaches.

And you’ll definitely want to accept the extended hoof of Winnie, the tiny wallaby that politely greets everyone who stops by her enclosure.

So, just how did Little Crooked Creek Safari come to be in Central Kentucky, better known for prize Thoroughbreds than for species from Africa, Asia, Australia and South America?  Swisher says it’s the result of his life-long love affair with exotic animals.

“When I was a kid, I loved African animals,” he says.  “I spent a lot of time drawing pictures of them, but I never imagined I could own them.” It didn’t start out that way, as Swisher, who has a house on the 35-acre property, began collecting sheep and goats just for his own pleasure.

 “I soon had friends telling me that I should open it to the public,” he says. He was initially skeptical, but adds that on the first day he did in 2022, “700 people showed up.” That convinced him he was ready to start welcoming more animals rarely seen in the Bluegrass – such as the four camels (Levi, Brownie, Naomi and Big Girl), and four kangaroos (Pretty Princess, Tiny Princess, Jerry and baby Ivy). When asked if he gives a name to all his residents, Swisher says it’s impossible to name all 200 – “just those with really big personalities,” he says.

If you are wondering which animal is the most popular, Swisher says that one of the candidates would have to be the South American sloth, which has its own separate encounter at an additional cost of $100. Swisher says that there are people are willing to pony up that amount for a meet-and-greet with the notoriously lethargic tree-dwelling mammals.

It sounds like he is well on his way to having an Ark-sized population, but is there one animal still on his wish list? “I would love to have a giraffe,” says Swisher, but at a cost of $500,000, I don’t see that happening any time soon.”

Even without a giraffe, visitors to Little Crooked Creek Safari get their money’s worth (adults, $20; kids, $15; under 2, free.) So, grab your camera and come on out….the camels, capybaras and coatimundis are waiting to meet you. Find out more information on Little Crooked Creek here.