Out of Africa and Into Ohio: The Wilds

If you’re like me, going to the zoo is a mixed bag. Don’t get me wrong, the Cincinnati Zoo is one of the finest zoos in the country and my daughter loves it, but I can’t help but feel sad for some of the animals that are in small enclosures.

If you enjoy getting up close to wildlife, without glass (and guilt) separating you, then you’ve got to go to The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio, east of Columbus.

The Wilds is a private, non-profit safari park and conservation center that combines cutting-edge conservation science and education programs with hands-on experiences and one-of-a-kind adventures that include tours, ziplining, horseback riding, fishing and more. It’s home to rare and endangered species from around the globe living in natural, open-range habitats.

We did the less expensive daytime open air bus tour about eight years ago but opted for a different experience this past weekend, so we booked the two hour sunset tour in a small open air truck with buffet dinner. (Think pickup truck with bench seats in the back).

Though pricey, the tour was fantastic and definitely the way to go if you want the very best experience. Whereas the bus holds about 30 people and has to stay on the road, the smaller truck is much more agile and able to go off road at times to get to the animals instead of hoping the animals come to it. You’re also able to have much more engaging conversations with the driver who jumps out and up to the cab roof to answer questions and describe the wildlife in great detail. Sunset is also the best time to go, because they time the tours with the final feedings of the day, so most animals happily come to the edge of the road to eat what’s been thrown out by a feeding truck that drives ahead of the tours.

There are many types of animals to see, including those with horns, hooves and antlers. Some that we saw included deer, antelope, rhinos, cheetahs, camels, zebra, bison and takins. And not just one in an enclosure, but an entire herd on the open plain in some cases, and many with babies. Our two most memorable up close and personal encounters occurred with a giraffe who lowered his neck into our truck for 20 minutes while we fed him lettuce! And then there was the ostrich who couldn’t resist repeatedly pecking at a rubber strap on the truck!

If the up close moments aren’t amazing enough, you can always gaze out at the landscape of rolling hills and lakes. Still believe you’re in Ohio? You might just be tempted to think twice about that!



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