Yesterday our good friend Karen Graham, pastor of New Concord UMC and the reason we are spending a week in Zanesville, treated us to a day at The Wilds. The Wilds is a land reclamation project and conservation of endangered species area, which makes it really interesting on two fronts. First, the land was formerly strip-mined by AEP for the coal. So everything on it was destroyed and then reformed during the mandatory reclamation. There are man-made ponds and hills and very little left of the land that was here to begin with. AEP also planted several wildly invasive species to control erosion once the reclamation began – think kudzu zoned for Ohio. Then they donated the 10,000 acres to The Wilds Foundation.
Second, The Wilds was created as “the conservation center of the future” by a group of civic leaders and Columbus Zoo professionals who wanted to create something that was different from a zoo. A place where endangered animals could be rehabilitated and bred in something closer to their natural environment. In order to fund this effort, The Wilds offers an assorted mix of safaris, horseback riding, ziplines, fishing, and behind-the-scenes tours. You can also become a member and support the conservation effort financially.
We enjoyed an open-air safari with a young guide who was funny and informed. We saw lots of interesting animals – many of them up close and personal. There was a Bactrian Camel who walked all the way around the bus, looking at us as much as we were looking at him. A Bateng (wild steer from Indonesia) was blocking the gate we needed to go through because he was making eyes at a Bison cow. Several Bactrian Deer ran across the road just in front of the bus (just like on I-70!). A Greater One-Horned Asian Rhino contentedly munched grass just a few feet away from the bus. Some Persian Onagers walked around the bus as they moved from one side of the road to the other. We watched a mother giraffe and her two babies eating about 100 feet away.
Tom and I aren’t big fans of zoos, but we enjoyed our time at The Wilds. It was nice to see the animals up close and everyone scrupulously obeyed the instructions not to touch the animals. The animals were allowed to move as they desired and they seemed content for the most part. We did encounter one cheetah – he was behind a strong and electrified fence – who looked like he was wishing he could hunt some of us for lunch – but most of the animals just ignored us and went on with their lives. Definitely a place we would recommend if you want to take a little trip on the wild side!