More than 100,000 people each year trek through the rolling hills of rural southeastern Ohio to visit the Wilds, one of North America’s largest wildlife conservation centers. The Wilds is home to more than 500 animals of over 25 species that roam 2,000 acres of pastures on the 10,000-acre property.
Most visitors come during the summer months and may not know that tours are also held in the winter. My family and I recently had the opportunity to experience a Winter at the Wilds tour.
While summer visitors enjoy open-air safaris, winter visitors have a slightly different experience. From December through April, tour groups are kept to maximum of six visitors who ride inside an SUV with a driver/guide. This allows for extensive conversation with the guide and a more personal experience overall.
Our guide Mercedes shared all kinds of interesting facts as she navigated the gravel roads through the property. Our first encounter was with a herd of Bactrian deer and a lone Bactrian camel named Wednesday.
Mercedes drove off the road right into the pasture for a closer look. Having previously been on the Open-Air Safari tours, which stay on the roads, this surprised and delighted us.In the next pasture, we got to see a herd of Sichuan Takins, which Mercedes told us was the inspiration for the Beast character in Beauty and the Beast. Several of the females had new kids which were absolutely adorable!
After viewing Père David Deer and Persian Onagers, we came to a roadblock in the form of two camels. One of them was Gobi, Wednesday’s father. When we stopped, Gobi approached our vehicle and used it as a scratching post. He then circled the SUV, checking us out. Although foaming at the mouth is normal for camels, some of my family members rolled up their windows because Gobi got so close to us. He must have liked us, because when Mercedes started driving away, Gobi chased after us, causing our entire group to erupt in giggles.
A unique part of the winter tour is the opportunity to visit some of the animal barns. Our tour included both the Indian and Southern White Rhinoceroses. We were ecstatic to find out that we could interact with some of them. We met Sanya and her four-month-old baby Glenn (named after John Glenn). They were napping when we arrived, but Sanya soon arose and then nudged Glenn until he woke up.
Mercedes said that just like human babies, Glenn enjoys putting things in his mouth, and she let him chew on her finger. Figuring that this was probably our only opportunity to touch a rhinoceros’ tongue, we followed her example.
Then it was time to head over to the giraffe barn. We got to view several giraffes and interact with one named Tuffy. Mercedes gave us some lettuce leaves to feed to Tuffy. His long tongue twisted around the lettuce and took it out of our hands.
Mercedes practically had to drag us out of the barns. We could have spent hours hanging out with Glenn and Tuffy. The Wilds is one of Ohio’s finest treasures, and the Winter at the Wilds tour was an unforgettable experience that my family will be reminiscing about for years to come.
Winter at the Wilds Tours run from November – April. (The tour size is 6 people.) The cost is $125 per person. Learn more here.
Disclosure: The Wilds provided complimentary admission to my family so that I could research and write this article.