Ohio’s ‘Wilds’ earns top DNR award

The Ohio DNR recently presented the Cardinal Award to The Wilds, a private nonprofit conservation park near Zanesville. Pictured meeting a young rhino on Tuesday, Oct. 10, at The Wilds are (from left to right) James Zehringer, ODNR director; Sam Speck, former ODNR director; Dr. Jan Ramer, vice president of The Wilds; and David Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Take a gander at the following list of exotic creatures – aquatic, insect, and mammalian — from the giant “Allegheny alligator” to a zebra, and you will find that they have some things in common.

Eastern hellbender, ostrich, red-crowned crane, trumpeter swan, American burying beetle, African painted dog, Bactrian camel, Bactrian deer, banteng, central Chinese goral, cheetah, common eland, dhole, eld’s deer, fringed-eared oryx, giraffe, greater one-horned Asian rhino, Grevy’s zebra, Indochina sika deer, Pere David’s deer, Persian onager, Przewalski’s wild horse, sable antelope, scimitar-horned oryx, Sichuan takin, southern white rhino.

They are rare or endangered for one thing, they come from the four corners of the world, but they all are alive and well and living together in Ohio, in a sprawling 9,000-acre private nonprofit conservation park near Zanesville. It simply is called The Wilds and next year will be the 40th since its inception.

Recently, the Ohio DNR presented its Cardinal Award to The Wilds, an honor and recognition that is well-deserved.

“The Wilds has changed how we think of and work for conservation, not only here in Ohio, but all over the world,” ODNR Director James Zehringer said.

The Wilds thrives on reclaimed coal stripmine land, restored since the 1980s “to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife.” By highlighting environmental impacts to animals found in Africa and Asia, The Wilds also is a reminder about conservation issues here at home. The Wilds staff, for example, recently helped ODNR with soil and plant life studies for other reclaimed mine land projects around Ohio.

“The Wilds has been transformed from a former strip mine into a unique conservation and safari park where people can enjoy a variety of ways to observe wildlife in lush pastures, learn about the conservation of critically endangered species, stay overnight in a number of lovely accommodations, and even take a zipline tour!” said Dr. Jan Ramer, vice president of The Wilds. “This would not be possible without the generous support of ODNR over the years.”

Besides exotic animal safari tours and recreational activities such as zip lining, horseback riding and lodging, The Wilds has successfully used grants from ODNR as it has become a world leader in animal conservation and land restoration. These grants have helped The Wilds build winter homes for some animals and helped to further breeding programs.

Former ODNR Director Sam Speck echoed Zehringer’s remarks, recognizing the years of collaborative projects that The Wilds and ODNR have worked on together.

Among other things, The Wilds has dedicated staff and facilities for local endangered species as well, including the eastern hellbender, a 2-foot-long salamander found in Ohio streams nicknamed the Allegheny alligator, and the native burying beetle. Some species now at home at The Wilds, are extinct in the wild, such as Pere David’s deer.

The Wilds recently began working with the Mighty Oaks Warrior Program, a peer-based program designed to assist those who have served or are currently serving in the U.S. military in overcoming challenges from daily military life, combat deployments and post-traumatic stress (PTS). The Mighty Oaks Foundation is based in California.

Open through October, The Wilds is about 90 minutes east of Columbus, near Blue Rock State Park. The ODNR Cardinal Award honors individuals and organizations demonstrating exceptional awareness and concern for ideals, as reflected in the department’s mission statement.

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