The Promised Land Zoo, Branson’s Top Rated Animal Attraction and only zoo, is family owned and operated and dedicated to providing each and every visitor a personalized zoo experience. Josh Remenar, the zoo’s managing director, known as “Jungle Josh,” told us about this one-of-a-kind attraction and how he got his nickname.
“I’m Jungle Josh,” he began. “As a teenager I worked for the Promised Land Zoo in Eagle Rock. Then I went into the army and off to college and came back and started dating the only daughter of the zoo’s owners and we eventually got married.”
Josh’s new father-in-law said he was going to open a zoo in Branson and he wanted Josh and his daughter, Josh’s wife Laura, to run it. Since Branson is a show town, his father-in-law decided that Josh needed a show business name so ‘Jungle Josh’ was born.
“At first thought it was a joke,” Jungle Josh said. “But when I got my uniform the name was embroidered on the shirt so I thought ‘okay, I guess I’m Jungle Josh now.’”
They started with just ten acres. They were basically a walk-through petting zoo with animal shows for smaller crowds. They then added 75 more acres and became what they are today.
“When we expanded we switched over to having tram tours from doing the smaller shows to accommodate the people,” Jungle Josh said. “The tram leaves every hour on the hour. We go all over the 85 acres inside and outside of the enclosure where the animals live. People get to feed and pet the animals. They come right up to the window of the tram. The driver of the tram is very knowledgeable and talks about the animals and where they live.”
For the real jungle explorers, they also do a personal tour called the Ultimate Excursion. That offers real one-on-one contact with the animals. You also get to ride a Polaris Ranger off-road vehicle and journey through the entire zoo.
Running the zoo is serious business. Josh’s wife, Laura, is the behind-the-scenes person making sure they are doing everything right. She works with the Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service and other government agencies to make sure the animals are treated and cared for properly. Jungle Josh is more hands-on. He wakes up at 4:00 a.m. because that’s when the sun comes up and animals wake up. He oversees the feeding and care for all of the animals and gets the zoo opened.
“The USDA has what they call enrichment guidelines for the care of animals,” Jungle Josh explained. “And I oversee that at the zoo. These guidelines mostly involve primates and cats. For primates, you have to change their toys out every day. Make sure they have a new toy or something to play with, mainly puzzles. You put cheerios inside the puzzle and they have to figure the puzzle out to open it and get the cheerios. This keeps their mental status good and strong. For the cats it’s all about meat. We usually give them frozen meat. We take an ice cube tray, put meat in it and freeze it. They spend about a couple of hours licking on it to get to the meat. So that’s like a two or three hour toy for them.”
So what does it take to become a Jungle Josh?
“The number 1 question I get is ‘do you have a Zoology degree’?” Jungle Josh said. “I think because the ‘zoo’ is in the word. But Zoology is the study of animal behavior. Most people who work in a zoo have a degree in Wildlife Biology. So if you are going to college and want to work at a zoo I would recommend a degree in Wildlife Biology or Wildlife Conservation Management. But aside from that, the biggest thing you can do is volunteer. Find your local zoo and volunteer. And when you get your degree, I guarantee that zoo will scoop you right up.”
Jungle Josh is quick to encourage young people to enter the career. “I’ve been around the world to 20 different countries through my time in the military,” Jungle Josh said. “I loved seeing the world, but this job I get to do is the most amazing experience I’ve ever have had. Twenty minutes ago I had an anteater hanging off of my arm, and before that I was petting a tiger.”
But the thing he really loves is getting to show children animals that they have only seen on TV or in books. “Getting these folks who have never seen a zebra in their life and letting them get up close to one and pet it, it’s just an amazing experience,” Jungle Josh said. “It sounds corny, but that is the best part of my job.”