African Adventures in Ohio
© Becky Linhardt 2010
No need to travel to Africa, you can enjoy viewing the exotic animals that roam the grasslands of Africa at the Wilds in Ohio’s Muskingum County east of Columbus. Here small herds of zebras and gazelles graze in open range enclosures. Giraffes nibble at the treetops and rhinos wander near the many lakes of the nearly 10,000 acre conservation center that is open to day time visitors and overnight guests.
Created as a refuge for numerous non-native species, the Wilds has had the support of Ohio’s zoological parks but is fundamentally different from a zoo. As a conservation center the property, almost 14 square miles of reclaimed mining lands, has been developed into eco-systems such as grasslands, wetlands, woodlands and lakes as homes for wild animals with plenty of space for the Wilds staff to pursue conservation programs, focus on a variety of science disciplines and develop in-depth educational programs available to children and adults.
Annually, more than 1,000 students participate in overnight camps and almost 1,400 students attend day camps each year. But the fun is not just for kids. The Safari Camps and Yurt Village rental are available to families and adult groups also and include tours, campfires, and night hikes with the Wilds’ Naturalists. At Wilds Photo Safari Camps you can learn techniques from experts and build a library of you own wildlife shots.
For a basic introduction to the Wilds, the Safari Transport Pass allows you to select your own pace. Open-air buses travel slowly along the dirt roads, pausing to wait for zebras to cross the road or for passengers to take advantage of a photo-op. A series of special gates separate the property into large grazing areas for herd management. There are several stops along the way at places where you can linger for awhile. Transports are spaced just a few minutes apart so you can step off one bus and board another when you are ready to continue. Stops are made at the Rhino Conservation Center, a walking trail to a wetland observation area, and new this year the Mid-Sized Carnivore Conservation Center.
Transport drivers are also excellent guides with plenty of stories to tell and the training to spot and identify the many species. You can also experience the Wilds with a smaller guided tour aboard one of their unique open air safari vehicles. Another option is to book a Sunset Safari package, available only on Friday and Saturday evenings from June through September. It includes a buffet dinner on the deck of the Overlook Café and twilight tour of the open range animal areas in one of the special safari vehicles.
On the tour that I joined we saw giraffes, a very photogenic rhino, Persian onagers, Scimitar-horned oryx, Grevy’s Zebra, Bactrian deer, and American bison, just a few of the managed species. Native species could also be seen: several hawks, a raccoon and a woodchuck. The coyotes, foxes, beavers, and American minks proved more elusive.
The Wilds promotes the interaction of people with nature through public and private partnerships. It has been recognized by the Audubon Society as one of Ohio’s Important Bird Areas and with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources the Wilds has constructed an observation deck for birding that is open to the public year round.
The Wilds, 14000 International Road, Cumberland, OH 43732
Information: 740-638-5030 or www.thewilds.org