The most memorable afternoon in Wichita for us was spent at Tanganyika Wildlife Park (which is technically not in Wichita, but close enough). Tanganyika is more than a zoo; it specializes encounters that create lasting connections for people to the animals they see.
There are traditional zoo-like exhibits of animals like otter and penguins, as well as 10 encounters on the map to seek out. Encounters meant interaction of some sort with an animal. On the day we visited, there were also pop-up opportunities to meet and learn about animals as varied as a Burmese python, ferret, and rat.
Tanganyika Wildlife Park is not a zoo; it’s a privately-run business. It helps knowing this so you’re not expecting an experience like a zoo (especially if you’re used to the Omaha zoo).
No doubt the owners love animals and care deeply about educating people about them. The idea is that if people connect with these rare animals, they will make the effort to help ensure their survival.
Fun fact: Tanganyika was once an African country. The nation of Tanganyika joined with Zanzibar to form Tanzania in 1964.
Animal highlights at Tanganyika
When you purchase your admission pass, you can opt for one of three levels of animal encounters. The general admission pass gets you one animal encounter of your choice. The next level allows five encounters. Then there’s the all-access pass, which means 10 animal encounters.
There’s also the option of purchasing coins to use for more encounters.
I tell you this so you can plan ahead to see if you want do all or some of the encounters. Honestly, getting the band with five encounters would have worked for my family, but that’s because we lingered with bunnies for ages. The single encounter would not have cut it, though. The all-access would be great if you had kids that aren’t nervous about huge creatures.
When we arrived, all my daughter wanted to do was ride a camel. It may have been what she was looking forward to, but it didn’t turn out to be her favorite experience. It wasn’t a bad one, but it just couldn’t compete with some other unique opportunities.
By far, the most memorable encounter for me was the behind-the-scenes tour of the okapi area. The wildlife park just started these tours, and we were among the first. It was so so cool.
The okapi keeper, Alexi, told us about the species plight in the wild and how they are quite rare to find in captivity in the United States due to some of their habitat requirements.
During our tour, we got to greet the friendly resident okapi, who didn’t mind nibbling on lettuce we fed him. He wasn’t so enthusiastic about us petting him, but he tolerated it for his reward of crispy lettuce. We got to ask questions, and learned a ton.
I enjoyed feeding other exotic wildlife, including a giraffe and some greedy little lemurs.
My kids felt the most comfortable feeding the less exotic rabbits and guinea pigs. There, they could crouch among the fuzzy creatures for as long as they wanted, petting them for as long as the animal tolerated.
The chance to pet animals ended up being what my kids enjoyed most. They were able to pet resting kangaroos, for instance. Unexpected was the opportunity to help one kangaroo paint. I wasn’t really interested in paying extra for the artwork but I think the kids will get a lot of mileage sharing that story with their friends back home.
The least successful encounter, for us, was feeding the tortoises, who are faster and pushier than you’d expect. The lorikeet feeding ended in tears for one of my kids, who got nipped by one of the birds.
Best photo opportunities at the park
You’ll want to bring your camera on your visit. There’s a lot to see and so many cute photo opportunities.
There were two times that you couldn’t take your own pictures: The okapi encounter and the ring-tailed lemur feeding. The staff member at the encounter took those pictures.
If you had an all-access pass, one photo was included, so that was good. I definitely wanted photos to remember the experience. My quibbles about photo service though: I think the wildlife park could benefit from professional photographers on hand snapping the pictures and a better process in place when you go to pick up your pictures.
If you go
Tanganyika Wildlife Park
Where: 1000 S. Hawkins Lane, Goddard, Kan.
When: Park hours vary, but it’s open generally Mid-March to Mid-November. Check hours here.
Cost: For children (ages 3-11), expect to pay $14.99 for 1 encounter on up to the all-access pass (10 encounters) for $34.99. Children younger than 2 are admitted FREE. Adults pay between $19.99 and $39.99. This is also a senior discount.
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