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Abilene Zoo carves dead trees into animal art


ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The Abilene Zoo brings the dead back to life in the name of conservation.

If you’re around the Abilene Zoo, you might hear their pride of lions roar throughout the day. This weekend, it’s not the roar of a lion you hear, but the ripping of a chainsaw through an old ash tree in the Madagascar exhibits.

Painted chameleon and tree sculpture

“We opened Madagascar in the spring of 2021,” zoo director Jesse Pottebaum said. “We developed this whole plan around these three beautiful 50-year-old ash trees.”

These three ash trees were planted by board members when the zoo’s gates first opened next to Grover Nelson Park in 1966.

However, after the winter freeze last February, Pottebaum and other council members feared the trees would not survive. Over the past year, Pottebaum and his team have been hard at work brainstorming ideas on how to preserve these trees.

Abilene Zoo carves dead trees into animal art
Lemur Tree Sculpture

Pottebaum said they decided to repurpose the trees into sculpted works of art, bringing in artists to carve the dead trees into beautiful conservation-focused sculptures.

Pottebaum contacted Ray Banfield, a sculptor and Granbury native, to initiate the project.

Banfield said the zoo provided designs for the first tree leading into the Madagascar exhibit.

“It’s a conservation-based tree,” Banfield said. “There will basically be a world map on the chest. They’re going to have a brand and every company they send their money to for their conservation fund.

Abilene Zoo carves dead trees into animal art
World Conservation Map Tree

The other design, Banfield said, his three-person independent team, using animals from Madagascar exhibits at the zoo as inspiration. You can find lemurs, a pit, several native birds and insects, and plants on the tree.

Abilene Zoo carves dead trees into animal art
Sculptor carving a gecko

Pottebaum said these sculptures take on the heart and soul of the zoo’s mission, which is to educate and inspire, and create a tangible foundation for future wildlife ambassadors and conservationists.

“These trees, I believe, will inspire our next generation to do something great for our zoological institutions around the world,” Pottebaum said.

Ray Banfield and his team will also color the trees, not just for protection, but to make the animals look more realistic and “bring them to life”.

The tree carvings are expected to be completed by Sunday.

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