Baylor alumnus shares journey from social media fame to Waco Wildlife Rescue

Baylor alumnus Ben Christie began Waco Wildlife Rescue to rehabilitate wildlife and educate the Waco community on conservation. Photo courtesy of Ben Christie

By Clara Snyder | Reporter

Ben Christie began rescuing wild animals as an undergraduate student. Since becoming a Baylor alumnus, Christie has turned his hobby into a social media career that has allowed him to open one of the only wildlife rehabilitation centers between Austin and Dallas.

Known as “The Urban Rescue Ranch” on social media, Christie’s nonprofit has amassed 4.2 million TikTok followers, 2.92 million YouTube subscribers and 701,000 Instagram followers since 2020. The Urban Rescue Ranch is now doing business as Waco Wildlife Rescue and is looking for Baylor student volunteers to help with animal care and social media.

“Our overarching message is we want to do sanctuary care for animals while also rehabilitating our native wildlife,” Christie said. “We’re essentially a hospital for wild animals, and our goal is to always release animals back into the wild unless they’re deemed unreleasable.”

Christie said wildlife rescue started as a hobby during his senior year at Baylor when people would bring him animals they found around campus.

“People would find squirrels that fell out of nests on campus or doves that fell out of the parking garages, and I would just take care of them,” Christie said.

After finishing a degree in professional sales and moving to Austin to begin his career in 2019, Christie continued rescuing wildlife. Christie said animals had always been a passion of his, but he knew that sales would be the way to make money.

“Opening a wildlife center would have always been a dream of mine, but wildlife rescue is a negative income job for the most part,” Christie said. “You either need to have a robust network of donors and sponsors or get really good at social media and crowdfunding.”

While working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Christie said he started spending most of his time doing wildlife rehabilitation and posting about it on TikTok. Christie took in animals that were injured or orphaned, specifically ones from the exotic hunting market.

“Because of COVID, there was nothing else to do, so I started making TikToks with funny skits, and some were getting millions of views,” Christie said. “It got us crazy exposure. I have videos where I’ve gotten about 50 million views just for playing with the kangaroo.”

By early 2021, Christie had amassed around 2 million followers on TikTok and was considering quitting his job to pursue wildlife rehabilitation full time in the Waco area, but he wasn’t in a good financial position. During the Winter Storm Uri freeze, Christie said he spent the days without power or water praying about his situation.

“I just prayed during those three days, asking God to tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life, why I’m here and if I should focus on this social media thing,” Christie said. “And I felt like God said, ‘Quit your job, and trust in me for income.’”

Despite his financial situation, Christie decided to quit his job on April 15, 2021. Christie said he woke up the next morning to the news that his circumstances had changed drastically overnight.

“When I went to bed, I didn’t have a lot of money to my name, and I was in $30,000 of debt at least,” Christie said. “But then I woke up the next day, and a YouTube video I had posted three weeks prior was on trending next to Mr. Beast and Drake; I had never had success on YouTube, but someone had posted the video on Reddit, and that was all it took.”

Afterward, the YouTube videos continued to receive traction. Christie said some of his earliest successful videos starred a rhea named Kevin.

“Kevin was attacking zebras and giraffes on this dude’s ranch, so he was given to me for free,” Christie said. “He also would attack me, which is the reason the videos blew up initially. He would just bite me. He’s funny.”

Christie said his success on YouTube yielded greater money than TikTok did, with the money he earned from ad revenue allowing him to fund the move to Waco and his work at the rescue center.

Today, there are about 30 species at the rescue center. According to Christie, they are currently beating the statistical survival average for wildlife rescue, with 60% of animals in their care surviving and returning to the wild.

Waco Wildlife floor director Ian Petty said although caring for wildlife isn’t always easy, it has brought him so much joy and peace.

“The best part of the job is when these animals are able to be released,” Petty said. “It’s a very beautiful experience I cannot describe. Seeing a raccoon you raised from a week old, now all grown up and sent back out into the wild — it’s incredibly rewarding. I could not ask for a better job than this.”

Waco Wildlife Rescue is looking for committed Baylor students willing to give one hour a week consistently on Tuesdays, Thursdays or weekends. Volunteers will be trained to work with and care for wildlife. Additionally, it is looking for volunteers to help with filming and social media for the rescue center. Those interested can email to get involved.