Trip on a Tank: Barn Hill Preserve

Halen Doughty

Adventure awaits at Barn Hill Preserve in Ethel, La. Just a short drive from Ascension Parish, Barn Hill is home to a variety of furry friends that are waiting to greet eager visitors. From kangaroos and otters to sloths and goats, every animal you can imagine is housed on the seven acre facility.

I had the privilege of visiting the preserve one Saturday morning. Barn Hill welcomes guests of all ages for guided walking tours on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m. on the site in Ethel, which is near Zachary just north of Baton Rouge. A few winding highways will take you straight up to the front gate, where staff will greet you as you embark on your adventure.

Visitors can expect to meet some dromedary camels near the front gates, where they'll have the chance to feed them and spend some time with these gentle giants. It's a fun learning experience, as the staff at Barn Hill hold a wealth of knowledge about the animal kingdom. For instance, did you know that camels can reach seven feet in height and weigh up to 1,500 pounds?

After a quick snack with the camels, guests can meet an eagle owl who sits close to the gates of the preserve. With a six-foot wingspan, this creature is as majestic as he is large. Surprisingly though, although owls are often depicted in animation as wise animals, they are not the smartest birds on the preserve or in the wild. That title is held by the raven, who also calls Barn Hill home. The raven is even known to talk, if you catch him in a good mood.

Another furry friend you can get to know at Barn Hill is one you may not have heard of. The binturong is a black furry creature with a long muscular tail. It's also known as a bearcat because of its appearance, having a face like a cat and a body like that of a small bear. The animal is native to Asia, so the preserve is a great way to meet animals you might not otherwise find in the Bayou State.

Tourists can check out the eurasian lynxes on site as well. The medium-sized cats are native to various parts of Asia, as well as some parts of Europe, making it one of the widest-ranging cat species on the planet. The playful kitties enjoy chasing feathered sticks and lounging like most other cats. They even rub their faces on the employees at Barn Hill, like house cats do with their owners. That's because the cats want to leave their scent on their people, to let other animals know who's boss.

One animal doesn't have to be chased down because she's sure to follow the group on the tour herself. A cockatoo named Angel was rejected by the parrots on site because she cannot fly. But that's okay because the chickens at Barn Hill accepted her into their group. Now Angel hops around the preserve, following visitors around the grounds as they visit her animal siblings.

The free-flying macaws are a sight to see. The large colorful birds hang out on the preserve, usually sticking close by their mate. They can be quite protective of their friends. The massive birds live for quite a long time and do not make good pets as they can be destructive and loud. That's how many of them came to live on the preserve.

One of the highlights from my visit at Barn Hill was getting to get up close and personal with baby red kangaroos. Entering the joey's pen, I got to have a sit down with them while sharing some snacks and photos. The joeys are incredibly soft and as friendly as they are adorable.

While it's hard to top getting to hang out with kangaroos, meeting a baby sloth might just take the cake. Grace is an eight-month-old two-toed sloth who is relatively new to the preserve. Guests can hold her while she snuggles a pillow and snacks on sweet potato. Visitors can also feed and pet several adult sloths in the next room while they hide out in their bunks, only poking their heads out for a quick bite.

Small asian otters are on site as well. They can be seen taking a dive in a pool on the grounds. Barn Hill does offer two hour otter swims to those who are interested. Be sure to specify because the otter swim is not included in the regular tour.

Barn Hill also offers birthday parties and field trips at the facility. The preserve even takes animal ambassadors to local schools to give students a chance to interact with the various species they house. Animal ambassadors will even come to your child's birthday party if you give them a call. For more information on the guided tours and everything Barn Hill has to offer, visit

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