Close Encounters of the Animal Kind

A Guide for Animal Attractions in the Ozarks
Ade7a3c6bb1c133813bc471dc67bc5ec75a8b561 susan wade sr 0386 Written by Susan Wade on May 15, 2018.

When a long string of drool dripped from the mouth of a giraffe at Wild Animal Safari, 5-year-old Pyper Lamon was unfazed.

“He’s so cool,” the petite brunette said matter of factly. “When we put food in his mouth, he slobbers. That’s so cool.”

Her 6-year-old sister, however, was not impressed.

“Eww, eww, eww!” Kenzi squealed, laughing and backing away from the tall fence separating her from the salivating creature. “Watch out for its slobber!”

Wild Animal Safari is one of three animal attractions in the Springfield area the Lamon family from Nevada, Missouri, visited last summer. With Dickerson Park Zoo and the National Tiger Sanctuary also on their list, it was a trip filled with up-close encounters with all kinds of animals from around the world.

Each offers a unique experience that educates and entertains.

Wild Animal Safari

A young girl feeds a camel at Wild Animal Safari in Strafford, Missouri.

Wild Animal Safari includes a small walk-through zoo featuring a petting area, monkeys, a giraffe and other creatures along with a reptile house. The attraction also has a ride-through tour where patrons can see - and feed - dozens of animals and learn about them from a well-versed tour guide.

Another option is to drive through in your own vehicle but USDA regulations prohibit feeding the animals without a guide present and windows must be rolled up.

A gift shop and and cafe are available for those who want to enjoy lunch at the park and take home a souvenir.

Dickerson Park Zoo

A girl meets a giraffe at Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Missouri.

Dickerson Park Zoo is a self-guided walking tour with a wide variety of animal exhibits. With the exceptions of the petting zoo, fish pond and a giraffe feeding deck, feeding the animals isn’t an option.

The Lamon children were especially impressed with the fish pond where dozens of carp rose to the surface to beg for food.

“Whoa! Look at all those fish!” Kenzi exclaimed. “There’s 1,000 fish over here!”

The zoo is organized geographically with animals from Asia, South America, Australia, Africa and other parts of the world. The Missouri Habitats area features animals native to the Ozarks, including playful otters, white-tailed deer, wolves and black bears.

A reptile house, elephants, special events and more provide hours of fun. There’s even a miniature train ride, a gift shop, playground and cafe.  

National Tiger Sanctuary

A handler feeds a lion at National Tiger Sanctuary in Saddlebrook, Missouri.

At National Tiger Sanctuary, home to several exotic felines, only guided walking tours are allowed. Feeding tours and other special tours are options.

During the tours, guides provide information about each feline and what brought them to the sanctuary, such as owners that no longer wanted the animals or rescues from situations where the animals’ lives were in danger or they had poor quality of life.

Along with tigers, the sanctuary has African lions, mountain lions, leopards and pumas, and don’t be surprised to see domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, on the grounds.

The sanctuary was the last attraction on the Lamon family’s agenda and each of the children took home a small stuffed toy from the gift shop that helps support the nonprofit organization.

While the children enjoyed their souvenirs, the thing they really got from their visit to Springfield’s animal attractions was memories they’ll cherish and hours of fun, said their mom, Stephanie. The family expected to visit all three attractions in one day but it ended up spread out over three days because they spent so much time at each one.

“The kids talked about our trip for days,” Stephanie said. “It was a great way for them to have fun and at the same time learn about so many different animals. I’m sure they’ll remember this trip for a long time.”

For Pyper and Kenzi’s little brother, Jonah, the trip was even more — a chance to talk with the animals. The 4-year-old greeted many of them as if they might reply, including the cotton top tamarins at Dickerson Park Zoo.

“Hi tiny monkeys,” he said with a dimpled grin.

Even baby sister Carter got in on the action. The 2-year-old, in fact, was the bravest of the group. She didn’t mind the drool and gaping mouths at Wild Animal Safari and each time an animal took food from her, the precocious toddler laughed.

“Ah, ha ha!” she shouted, clapping her hands. “I did it!”

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