By Randy C. Anderson
hunting expedition esp. in east Africa; also: such a hunting expedition
2. journey, expedition
Just the word “safari” conjures up vivid images of impenetrable jungles, crocodile-infested rivers, charging lions and a mystical man named Tarzan. As kids, many of us grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic tales of Tarzan, and watching those classic Johnny Weismuller movies on Saturday mornings. I loved reading stories of the legendary hunter and African game warden Peter Hathaway Capstick. I could not wait to go on safari when I grew up!
Well, I have not made it to Africa yet, but I do go on safari – in Oklahoma. We have an abundance of wildlife and a diverse ecosystem, second only to Texas and California (they both have coastal regions and large deserts that Oklahoma does not have). Add the fantastic zoos and animal parks in Oklahoma, and you can find just about any type of wildlife on the planet.
If you are not already aware of it, we have two of the best zoos in the entire country right here in Oklahoma – the Oklahoma City Zoo and the Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum. Add to this list the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, Tiger Safari in Tuttle and Arbuckle Wilderness near Davis, all top-notch locations for a “City Safari.”
The Oklahoma City Zoo just keeps getting better. Last month they opened the new elephant habitat, and it is spectacular. At long last, the zoo announced the birth of the first Asian elephant in the zoo’s history. Since they opened the Great Escape a few years ago, the zoo has added many new exhibits that provide natural settings for the animals. These include the Cat Forest and Lion Overlook, Oklahoma Trails and a remodeled children’s zoo. There is much to do and see, so allow plenty of time.
The Tulsa Zoo has regions or areas of the world exhibiting the flora and fauna of that particular region. The Robert J. LaFortune North American Living Museum is comprised of four buildings, each of which represents a region of North America and tells about that region’s land and wildlife. Recent renovations to the complex have added several new exhibits for guests to enjoy. Other areas include Africa, Asia, Tropical American Rain Forest and Oceans and Islands.
The Oklahoma Aquarium offers visitors a look at all types of aquatic life, from fishes found in Oklahoma to sharks, and everything in between. This unique venue can be mesmerizing – I stood watching the sharks for over an hour (of course, I was taking pictures). The Oceans Room and Coral Reef exhibit give you a close-up view of sea creatures you don’t normally see, while the stingray feed-and-touch tank was quite a thrilling experience. The Oklahoma Aquarium is well worth the easy drive to Jenks.
Tiger Safari in Tuttle is a smaller complex, but packs a punch with its selection of big cats and other wildlife. Their collection of big cats includes tiger (including white), jaguar, lion, leopard, cougar and lynx. This zoo offers a more intimate experience with the animals, and they offer special programs and amenities that include tree-house camping, sundowner tours, a safari bed & breakfast and banquet hall. It’s a great place for school field trips or birthday parties.
Arbuckle Wilderness is a 400-acre drive-thru park. This is as close to the African savannah as you will ever get without actually going there. Set in the Arbuckle Mountains, most of the animals roam freely in habitats designed to simulate their natural environment. You can drive your own car, or take the safari bus. There are hundreds of animals to see, and is a fun family safari. Special food is available to feed the animals, and that is a large part of the fun – especially for the kids. There are plenty of photo opportunities, so make sure you take a camera.
Besides these great zoos and animal parks, native wildlife can be seen almost anywhere. As a wildlife photographer, I am always on the lookout for subjects. I have photographed whitetail deer in city parks and around city lakes, red fox at city parks and cemeteries. Coyotes, while elusive, can be seen in the same types of locations; a mountain lion was recently spotted in a Tulsa neighborhood, where it was tranquilized and taken to the Tulsa Zoo. Opossums, raccoons and squirrels are common in many suburban neighborhoods.
Another jewel in Oklahoma’s outdoor inventory is the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton. There you can see bison, longhorn cattle, deer, elk and many bird species. Keep in mind that all the animals there are wild and can be dangerous. Just keep your eyes and ears open because you never know what you will see – after all, a City Safari is a state of mind.
- Route 1 Box 63
- Davis, OK 73030
- Phone: (580) 369-3383
- Webitse: www.arbucklewilderness.com
- 300 Aquarium Drive
- Jenks, OK 74037
- Phone: (918) 296-FISH (3474)
- Website: www.okaquarium.org
Oklahoma City Zoo
- 2101 NE 50th St.
- Oklahoma City, OK 73111
- Phone: (405) 424-3344
- Website: www.okczoo.com
- Park Director Bill Meadows
- 963 County St. 2930
- Tuttle, OK 73089
- Phone: (405) 381-WILD (9453)
- Website: www.tigersafari.us
Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum
- 6421 East 36th Street North
- Tulsa, OK 74115
- Phone: (918) 669-6600
- Website: www.tulsazoo.org
Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge
- General Information: (580) 429-2197
- Tour Reservations: (580) 429-2151
- Website: www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/oklahoma/wichitamountains