Safari: Ohio

The Wilds provides a unique and powerful glimpse at animals from all over the world, including some you’ve certainly never heard of. They also conduct research on critically endangered species that most zoos will never care about.

And is not the rhinoceros itself already fabulous? Its ugliness, its ever-increasing rarity, its quiet habits, and its unsociability – all contribute to making it a mysterious and strange animal worthier of figuring among mythological monsters, in Scandinavian tales, or in Buddhist fables, than in reality. – Édouard Foà, Fellow of the French Royal Geographical Society, 1899

Sonia took the sweet potato from my companion’s hand, her pointed, prehensile upper lip gripping the fingers and probing for the treat, her single horn aloft as the massive animal received her tuber with the same gentleness as my pup takes Milk Bones. Her enormous head easily reached us from our position in the back of the pick-up truck as we leaned over the rail, astounded by the other-worldliness of the Greater One-Horned Asian Rhinoceros.

The Wilds connects central Ohio with the fauna of the world. It’s easy enough to go to the zoo and see animals you are unlikely to ever experience in their natural habitats, but it’s another thing to make for them a habitat on a reclaimed strip mine and then to drive out in a truck and watch them eating grass…not just feed, tossed over by handlers, but to graze on grass, as true to their nature as the Midwest could ever afford them.

“The giraffes like the black walnuts,” said our guide, Heather, explaining that they are similar enough to the animals’ natural diet of acacia, found readily in their homeland.

Indeed, interesting things happen at The Wilds: you’ve perhaps seen iconic photos of African rhinos with little white pest-eating birds perched atop them? There are no African Tickbirds native to Ohio…but we do have brown cowbirds, which were more than happy to take on that role.

Masai Giraffes
Long a zoo staple, with their long necks, long legs, and long tongues (almost everything on a giraffe is pretty long), these animals are an immediate stand-out. Glamour animals like giraffes and pandas bring visitors, but also allow The Wilds to focus on lesser-known animals, such as Sichuan Takin and a dozen varieties of endangered deer, animals that don’t draw like the long-neck giraffe but must also be protected and preserved.

Sonya and Laura 4Eva
My companion and (614) Magazine’s lead designer, Laura Sanders, still hasn’t stopped bragging about her pal, Sonya, the Greater One-Horned Asian Rhinoceros; the sweet beast did take plenty of sweet potatoes gently from her hand.

Everyone’s favorite stripey equid; instead of two or three animals hanging around a zoo, The Wilds has an entire herd.

Persian Onager
Technically not a horse but a wild ass, these were once common throughout the Middle East and central Asia; now, these animals number fewer than 700 in the wild. Here, though, you can see an entire herd of them, although don’t touch: they bite.

White Rhinoceros
Do you know that a group of rhinos is known as a “crash?” How amazing is that? White rhinos like the ones pictured here are easily distinguished from black rhinos, the other species of the animal native to Africa, although it’s not by color: the animals are nearly the same hue of gray. White rhinos have broad mouths, perfect for grazing like cattle; black rhinos have a pointed and prehensile upper lip adapted to grasping foliage. Rhinos are unlikely to be around for future generations at all unless poaching them for use of their horns in traditional Chinese medicine is put to a stop.

The world’s fastest land animal and many a child’s favorite, the cheetahs in Africa (and some parts of the Middle East) use their spring-like body to take down gazelles as fast as 75 miles per hour, and can go from zero to 62 miles per hour in about three seconds. As you can imagine, this causes considerable consternation in the local squirrel population at The Wilds.

The Wilds, located at 14000 International Road in Cumberland, Ohio, is a truly unique animal preserve and conservation center situated on nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed strip mine. It boasts many more animals, including fish, birds, and invertebrates, than is depicted here due to space, and it must be experienced firsthand to appreciate the scale of both the facility and the mission. Partnered with the Columbus Zoo, memberships to one or the other are available and both the Zoo and The Wilds depend on the active members of the community to thrive and carry out their mission. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate across the globe, and we can’t just hope someone else takes care of the problem. Please consider becoming involved; you at least owe it to yourself to visit this one-of-a-kind sanctuary. For more information, visit or the

Fly over pastoral scenes and lakes with rare ungulates grazing by the beach! The Wilds’ zipline tour is a platform-to-platform leap, affording a bird’s-eye-view of some of the earth’s most exciting creatures.

There are so many ways to experience The Wilds that anyone could go over and over again and always leave with an amazing story. The trail rides, conducted by knowledgeable riders, allow for expansive vistas and views of exotic animals from atop domesticated ones.

Whether from the banks or from a boat, the rotating cast of ponds and lakes that dot the expansive property are stocked with trophy fish (catch and release, though: not keeping the trophy fish keeps the fishing trophy-worthy!) and knowledgeable guides let you take a break from impressive animals from other lands and allows you to get up close and personal with some impressive animals from here.

Yurts, a traditional form of dwelling long used by nomadic tribes of Central Asia, are available at The Wilds for your semi-nomadic accommodation pleasure. These structures may technically be considered “tents,” but these are not your standard-fare Colemans: luxuriously appointed but with an eye toward maintaining traditional motifs, some even have air conditioning.