Area residents do not have to go to a DFW Metroplex museum or a zoo to see safari animals. The Harber Wildlife Museum in Sherman has about 400-450 animals from all around the world.
The museum was opened in 2011, and the owner is former American Bank of Texas owner Lacy Harber and his wife Dorothy.
“Dorothy and Lacy have been big game hunters for many many years — about 30-35 years,” museum education director Keith McBrayer said. “Dorothy always hated that she would go to these places and see all of these animals, but when she returned, there was no way for people to see them here. Most of the kids in this area never get a chance to see these things. They could go to a zoo, but the animals are behind bars. They are off in the distance. You cannot get close to them at all. She always wanted to have a museum so that people could see what they looked like in their natural settings.”
Of the animals at the museum, McBrayer said the Harbers shot many of them. Dorothy Harber is a dead shot with a bow and arrow, he said.
“Most people think the Harbers brought the animals here,” McBrayer said. “But a lot of them they have hunted over the years. Some of these animals used to be in the American Banks. When they moved the animals from the banks, they came here. The polar bear was in the main branch of the bank. Several were at their house. Several were in storage.”
Two of the animals in the museum were not hunted. The Siberian tiger and the white lion were donated to the museum.
“The Siberian tiger is an endangered species,” McBrayer said. “It was in a zoo. It got a kidney infection. They did everything they could, but he got worse. When it seemed like he was getting close to the end someone that knew the Harbers advocated for them to get him after he died. The museum lawyer had to do stacks and stacks of paperwork on him just because he is endangered.”
The museum has ten sections: Africa; the wetland; the aquatic area; resources; artifacts; the Asia, Russia, and Australia section; Sundowner room; the desert; the theater; and North America.
“The word that we hear more than anything else is, ‘Wow,’” McBrayer said. “You can get close to a lion, tiger, a bear. People always ask if the animals are real. We say that they used to be real now. They are real friendly. If they were real they would be chasing us around.”
McBrayer has been with the museum since it opened. As the education director, he said that he enjoys learning about the animals in the museum.
“One of the things I always tell people about is how a giraffe gets a drink of water,” he said. “A giraffe is so tall that they cannot reach the ground with their tongues. They have to spread their two front legs as far apart as they can and then lean down to get a drink of water. They always go to water in pairs or more. One drinks and one watches for predators.”
McBrayer is one of the tour guides when the museum does its school tours. About 105 children from Rock Creek Independent School District in Bokchito, Oklahoma attended the tour Wednesday at the museum.
“My favorite part about the museum is the people that come in — especially the little ones,” McBrayer said. “We get a lot of pre-K and kindergarten aged children. They just point with excitement when they see the lions and bears. We have people from all over the world come through though.”
McBrayer said that to him, it is amazing how many people come in and say, “How long have you been open? We have not heard of you.” Since the museum opened, it has seen about 60,000 patrons.
Of those patrons, McBrayer said, most people are most fascinated by the polar bears.
“Some people are fascinated by the facts about the polar bears,” he said. “A brain teaser I like to say is that the polar bear is the only bear that has bear feet but does not have bare feet. They are the only bear that has hair on the bottom of his feet. That is to keep their feet warm.”
McBrayer said people are also surprised when they learn that the polar bear has black skin.
“That is because black absorbs the heat,” he said. “So their skin is designed to absorb the most heat it can. Polar bears just blend right in with the snow. Their fur is not white. It is clear and it just reflects the snow so it looks white.”
The Harber Wildlife Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday from June to August and from 3-5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and 1-5 p.m. Sunday September through May. Admission for children 12 years and under is free and for those over 12 admission is $5.
The museum is located at 4703 Texoma Parkway in Sherman. To book a tour, call 903-624-1914.