June 23, 1975 12:00 PM

At Houston’s Hobby Airport, John Mecom Jr., 35, multimillionaire oilman and owner of the New Orleans football Saints, and his wife, Katsy, stepped from their white Rolls-Royce convertible into their white Lear jet. They were off to visit the 15,000 acres outside Laredo where Mecom, an ardent conservationist, has stocked zebras, giraffes, kudu and other exotic animals since 1962. Now, because of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the reserve may have to be abolished.

The act prohibits interstate movement “for commercial purposes” of animals on the endangered species list. And Noah’s Ark, which Mecom calls his spread, has been declared a “commercial” enterprise. Mecom has invested between $1 and $2 million in it. Thus, he explains, “People like us with private game farms will not be permitted to breed and distribute the animals that are threatened with extinction. We may have to castrate our animals or eat them.”

With the increase in the price of oil and a new massive natural gas strike on the Laredo ranch, Mecom can now well afford to finance a test case on the endangered species ruling. In recent years the Mecom empire, founded by John Sr., had been badly over-extended, but the father is rapidly building his resources back to the estimated $250 million of 1965.

Not that the family’s reverses have severely cramped John. Nurtured by his father in the ways of Mecom finance—at 15, the son was courier for notes involving the purchase of 780,000 acres in Louisiana—John Jr. has variously organized a topflight stable of race cars and drivers (Graham Hill won the Indianapolis 500 for him in 1966), agonized over his hapless New Orleans team, raced marathon boats and even acted in films. “Mr. Louis B. Mayer gave me my first part,” the 6’3″, 215-pound Mecom recalls. “I was a dead Mexican in Viva Zapata, a movie that was shot at our ranch. Later I became a stunt-man and specialized in falling off horses.”

Katsy is another silver-spoon baby, the daughter of Oklahoma cattle-and-oil baron E.C. Mullendore. The couple met at the University of Oklahoma and were married in 1962. The wedding was an extravaganza for 2,000 friends at Mullendore’s 187,000-acre ranch. It was celebrated with four days of partying—”a barbecue one night and a formal dance the next,” recalls Katsy.

Home for the Mecoms and their four children—John III, 11, Katsy, 8, Mary Elizabeth, 7, and Kathleen, 4—is wherever they wish at the moment. Besides the ranch at Laredo, the Mecoms own one other in Colorado, those 780,000 acres in Louisiana, a mammoth apartment in New Orleans, a Houston mansion (a virtual museum for such mixed curiosities as Tiffany glass and Schmeisser machine guns) and an island off Tampico, Mexico. To get around the family has its own private jet, a 237-foot yacht and a fleet of cars—Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Rollses—as exotic as Laredo’s animals. “What we do that might seem frivolous to other people is necessary to us,” says Mecom. “It’s a way of life that’s difficult to explain. But we don’t look for excuses, we find reasons.”

Right now their driving concern is to preserve and propagate their menagerie. On the recent inspection flight, as the Mecoms’ jet banked over a herd of scimitar antelope grazing near a drilling rig, John Jr. said, “We hit that gas well right here last month and we have 55 more planned. It couldn’t have happened at a better time. We’re going to have a test case soon.” He sighed, “You know, it’s too bad the animals can’t take the witness stand.”

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