The Wilds in Ohio well worth price of admission

We spent a delightful night at The Wilds in southeast Muskingum County last week.

The 9,100-acre safari park and conservation area is not only home to 700 rare and endangered animals, it also hosts overnight facilities – 12 two-person yurts, as well as a "lodge" cabin that sleeps 12.  
For the uninitiated, a yurt is a hut-like structure of canvas and wood. 

Yurts at The Wilds are luxurious and rentable from May to October. All have indoor bathrooms with showers. They are strictly adults only. No kids, pets or smoking allowed. Overnight prices vary, depending on the bed size and whether or not the yurt is air-conditioned.

We stayed in a "premium" yurt that comes with a king bed and air-conditioning. The $423 price tag (including tax) was a bit steep, but included dinners, breakfasts and open-air encounters with many of the 47 wildlife species that roam The Wilds' pastures and lakes. 

Daytime hours were abuzz with school field trips and activities. Come sundown, there wasn't much to do but sit around the outdoor fire pit and chat with fellow "yurt-ers."

A couple from Westerville was visiting overnight for the sixth time. They were critical of the cafe's food, but said the ambiance and spectacular scenery continue to be a draw.

It's been 21 years since The Wilds opened to the public. And the reclaimed strip-mine has come a long way in both accommodations and conservation projects. Following a rocky start, The Wilds thrived and gained support from many Ohio-based corporations and zoos. The Columbus Zoo continues to be a major backer with director emeritus Jack Hanna acting as The Wilds' primary promoter. 

Restoration of the eastern hellbender salamander and the American burying beetle are two ongoing Columbus Zoo projects that are very visible at the facility.

Aside from up-close and personal visits with giraffes, white rhinos, zebras and camels, The Wilds now offers a variety of other outdoor diversions. A complex, 11-station zip-line challenges users to view wildlife from the heights. And there are both horseback and fishing safaris. The lady from Westerville said "wildside" safaris – which cost anywhere from $60 to $120 extra – are well worth the price tag. Wildside guides take visitors off-road in small groups to feed the animals or observe them undergoing medical procedures.

Among the most popular attractions last week, was a baby female camel named "Wednesday." School children chose the name via the Internet as an alternative to "hump day." In addition to the little camel, baby Sichuan takin, American bison, and giraffe also scampered in the pastures. 

A total of 74 animals (excluding hellbenders and burying beetles)  were born at The Wilds in 2014, a guide told us.

The Wilds continues to be a valuable asset to conservation both locally and in other countries. Animals nurtured at The Wilds have been successfully re-introduced to their native habitats in Asia and Europe. 

Information regarding safaris, programs and overnight stays is available at thewilds.org.

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