+16 / -9
207 days 13 hours 23 minutes
New zoo is a family business
Catskill couple and their kids transform ranch with their interest in exotic animals
By ALAN WECHSLER, Business writer
First published: Friday, June 29, 2007
CATSKILL -- Three years ago, Garry Koschitzki got a call from daughter Tiffani's fifth-grade teacher. Tiffani, the teacher thought, could benefit from some counseling.
The problem, she delicately explained to Koschitzki, was that Tiffani was supposed to write a true story about what she did over the summer. And what she wrote was an essay about how she rode an elephant home every night.
There was a pause.
"She did ride an elephant home every night," Koschitzki replied. He had the pictures to prove it.
Koschitzki, owner of the Bailiwick Ranch riding stable, has been around exotic animals for his entire life. So has his wife, Robin, and their five children (the elephant in question was there as a summer attraction).
Now, their affinity for all things furry, feathery or slithery has resulted in a new business venture: Discovery Zoo, which opens Saturday at the ranch.
Built in only a few months, it was created to fill a void caused by the closure of the Catskill Game Farm, which had operated down the road.
In fact, some of the animals at the zoo -- ostriches, zebu and fallow deer, among others -- were bought from the game farm, which closed in October. "Come and see some old friends" is the new zoo's catch-phrase.
"We love animals," said Koschitzki, and it's easy to believe him.
Entering the family's ranch on Thursday, a visitor could see son Trever, squinting as a ring-tailed lemur climbed about his head. Nearby, Roger Zoppe, owner of a traveling chimpanzee show that will be performing here, was walking around with a brown capuchin monkey hugging his neck.
Many more animals are in cages and corrals -- a kangaroo, an albino python, a zebra, a giant tortoise. Chickens roam free (they're used to feed the python, but don't tell the customers). There also is a variety of goats, deer, llamas and a baby camel that likes to follow Koschitzki around all day.
The family also plans to invest in an anteater, a lynx and other exotic mammals.
Creating the zoo has required constant activity for the past several months. Everyone works: Robin, though she's seven months pregnant; Tyler, 18, who's the foreman; and most of the younger kids (some even know how to operate the tractor).
"It's the excitement that keeps us going. We thrive on it," Koschitzki said. "It's going to be non-stop."
Last summer, the owners of the 73-year-old Catskill Game Farm announced the attraction would close at the end of the season. The Schulz family, which ran the park for three generations, said the 1,000-acre park was no longer bringing in enough visitors.
Chris Schulz, 23, grandson of the game farm founders, said he thought Discovery Zoo would be in a much better position because it has fewer animals. The game garm once had 2,000; the zoo will have about 30 different animal exhibits on two acres.
"You can make a small zoo work," said Schulz, a close friend of the Koschitzki family who now runs an animal consulting business. "You can make it be profitable. We were just too large."
Koschitzki's father, Alfred, was a former U-boat captain who left Germany after World War II. In 1962, he and his wife, Maria, bought a huge stone house built by a wealthy, turn-of-the-century artist in Catskill and opened a dude ranch. Garry grew up here and married a woman from down the road, and the two of them continued the business.