KEARNEY — When Jacob Sikes opened the ZooZeum in 2018, he dreamed of an attraction for downtown Kearney that fascinated and educated visitors, but this week Sikes announced his dream is done.
After nearly three years of fascinating children and adults, the ZooZeum is closing.
The ZooZeum was approaching its third anniversary. It opened in November 2018 at 2302 Central Ave.
Sikes said in a lengthy Facebook post that he had planned to slowly close his unusual attraction filled with exotic mammals and reptiles and other curious beasts. However, his plans to close leaked onto the internet, which has accelerated and complicated the closing process.
“We’re closing this Saturday, but we’ll have a final kind of celebration thing. We’re going to have free admission and probably some music,” Sikes said Monday evening at the ZooZeum.
He said it felt odd, but he was proud when visitors arrived from Omaha, home of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo — arguably one of the nation’s best zoos.
While stealing visitors from a truly excellent zoo felt good, he said, it was more fulfilling to watch children and their parents spend long spells looking at his animals and exploring the ZooZeum.
“The average length of stay here was two hours,” Sikes said.
He said closing the ZooZeum won’t end his animal experience. He plans to be a part of the Nebraska Wildlife Experience and will share details about that endeavor in the future.
But first he needs to close the ZooZeum, a process that will be complicated, mostly because of the assorted animals housed there.
When news broke on the internet that the ZooZeum is closing, he said, quite a number of people volunteered to care for the animals.
But it’s not as simple as adopting a puppy at the pound.
“The reason I was so detailed about the animals is you can’t just open the back door and have an animal garage sale,” he said.
Satisfying an animal’s physical needs for food and the right kind of environment is one thing, but the origins of animals also is important. Some animals might be a protected species, or they might be on loan to the ZooZeum, so they have to be methodically handed out or go back to where they came from, Sikes said.
He said running the ZooZeum was a memorable experience, not just because of the animals, but also the assorted people who helped keep the attraction open.
“People have been really good to us. It will be a hard day when we close. I’ll probably cry,” Sikes said.