SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Answer Man: A long time ago when I first moved to Republic, there was someone who owned giraffes on MM between James River Expressway and Interstate 44. Does anyone know what happened to them? They were so cool.
This question was asked back in April 2018. It was not sent directly to me. It was posted on Facebook and I was tagged as part of the thread.
I’ve kept the question on my Master List – which I hide in a safe hidden in the tunnels under downtown Springfield – and after returning from vacation Wednesday, I thought I’d give it a shot.
The property we’re talking about is west of Springfield in an area called Brookline. It’s on the east side of Highway MM.
It was owned by Audren and Mary Mae Garrett, husband and wife, who owned and operated Garrett’s Propane Gas Service.
She died in 2003 at 79 and he died in 2005 at age 82.
According to her obituary, they also operated an exotic animal ranch.
“He had a lot of exotics,” says Mike Crocker, director of Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield. Crocker has worked at the zoo 43 years and has been its director since 1988.
“He had zebras and camels, but I don’t recall there ever being giraffes there,” he says.
Kathy Davidson, 57, is one of about a dozen grandchildren of Mary and Audren. She lives in Strafford.
Her grandfather collected exotic animals as a hobby, she tells me.
“It was a weird collection,” she says. “I can’t say I ever remember a giraffe. My grandfather just kind of became obsessed with collecting wild animals. He would trade and sell with other collectors in the nation.”
She recalls zebras, camels, ostriches and llamas, emus and elk. At one point, there was a herd of 60 buffalo.
“Years ago there was this really big sale every so often in Macon, Missouri. There was a wild animal sale and people from all over the country would come to this small town and buy all kinds of wild animals.”
“Zebras can bite you really bad”
Some of them were dangerous, she recalls.
One time, an ostrich tried to stomp her grandfather to death.
“This ostrich had knocked my grandfather over – and he was a big man,” she says. “But he was able to get away before he was killed.
“And zebras can bite you really bad.”
I’ve searched newspaper archives and could not find a story stating there were ever giraffes at the site.
In 1980, this newspaper reported the birth of a baby guanaco on the Garrett property.
A guanaco is similar to a llama and is native to South America.
Our story – written by Clara Tuma – stated: “Since guanacos are new to the Ozarks, sightseers often stop to get a closer look as they drive by the Garretts’ home in Brookline.
“‘Travelers line the fence on weekends,’ Garrett said, ‘and several even have come into the pasture to examine the animals.'”
A 2001 news story states that the farm was home to some camels and 60 zebras.
In fact, one of the zebras was en route to the farm from Texas when it escaped from a trailer in Redings Mill, a Newton County town south of Joplin.
The fire chief at the time, Andy Nimmo, told the paper: “I’ve chased an emu or two, but this is the first time we’ve gone after a zebra.”
Soon after the escape, a homeowner called to report that, believe it or not, there was a zebra in the backyard.
“It took five tranquilizer darts to take him down, he was such a big animal,” Nimmo said.
“It was an absolutely gorgeous animal. I’m just pleased we were able to get him and he didn’t get hurt, and that no one else was hurt.”
Audren and Mary had four children – three girls and a boy.
Virginia McCall, one of the daughters, lives in Elkland. She says that the collection of exotic animals started as a hobby for her father.
“My dad loved it,” she says. “And after a while, he made a lot of money.”
Family members still own the property.
Mary and Audren’s son, Lee Roy, lived next door and took some of the animals after his parents died. Lee Roy died in 2010.
“Eventually, they were just all sold,” says Davison. “To some of us, it was just plain crazy.”
These are the views of News-Leader columnist Steve Pokin, who has been at the paper 6½ years, and over his career has covered everything from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65806. Steve’s articles