A Wild Family Adventure Close to Home! - MetroFamily Magazine
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A Wild Family Adventure Close to Home!

by Kirsten Holder

Reading Time: 6 minutes 

Close-to-home getaway experiences are invaluable to our family of littles. Road trips provide the perfect balance between the desire to get away and the experience of an actual vacation, not just a “trip.” Just 2.5 hours north of OKC, Wichita, Kan. provides an unforgettable adventure for your family’s next vacation!

Exotic Experience

What child wouldn’t love to feed a lemur, play games with a giraffe, talk to a rhino or pet a penguin? Tanganyika Wildlife Park is located just 20 minutes west of downtown Wichita and was founded under the premise that if people can have close encounters with animals, they will be more likely to care about conservation.

Tanganyika is a family-owned and operated park. It was established at its current location in Goddard, Kan. in 1985 as a place to care for rare and endangered animals. In the early 2000s, the Fouts family decided to open their 51 acres to touring visitors. They have been operating as a large-scale zoo since 2008, and they currently have 40 exhibits featuring 10 interactive stations, more than 400 animals and 37 successful breeding programs.

Close Encounters

Tanganyika keepers have hand-crafted 15 “animal feeding encounters and experiences” within the park, including meeting lemurs, lorikeets, otters, pygmy hippos, small cats and more. Each experience can be selected as an add-on to admission or included in a “best day bundle” for your family.

While it is recommended to visit the park during the warmer months so your family can see all the amazing animals, Tanganyika makes a great destination any time of the year as many of the animal experiences are indoors. Our family visited during an unusually cold spring day. These experiences are memorable for any age — our young kids (and their parents!) thoroughly enjoyed them all!

The Africa/Asian Barn

Upon entering the barn, you are immediately greeted by legs. Lots of legs! Once you become reoriented, your gaze follows those legs up to the highest heights where you find the sweetest, kindest eyes you’ve ever seen. Many of us haven’t been close enough to a giraffe to really take in the full scope of how tall they are. Male giraffes can grow up to 18 feet!

During this experience, you move up to the second level of the barn, where you can be eye-level with even the tallest giraffes. The keepers handed out heads of lettuce that we hand-fed to each giraffe after they “booped” a red balloon! The keepers were quick to mention that if any animal in their park doesn’t feel comfortable participating in a training game or feeding exercise, they are never forced.

We were all encouraged to be gentle, move slowly and take the animals’ lead. During this experience, we also met a warthog and several kinds of monkeys with their precious babies.

Safari Barn

When you think of a rhino, does a puppy immediately come to mind? For us it didn’t, but the keepers assured us that many of their rhinos have very similar personalities!

We were also delighted to learn that each of the white rhinos within the Safari Barn are named after characters from “The Office.” Our favorite, Dwight, was certainly puppy-like, enjoying getting pats and being hand-fed alfalfa. He whined when we moved away from his enclosure, begging us to come back to give him more attention. Of course, this stole our hearts!

The keepers informed us that the last thing you would want to do is approach a 5,000-pound rhino when they are about to spar. As if on cue, two male rhinos began to bash each other, even drawing small bits of blood, while the females hardly turned their heads. Did I imagine it, or did they roll their eyes?!

Penguin Meet & Greet 

If you thought penguins were all prim and proper, think again. Getting to meet these little balls of personality was truly the icing on the cake of the day. “OG,” named after her orange and green tag, came barreling out of the door and into our viewing room, bursting with confidence and curiosity. We played with her using cat toys on a string, and when she snatched and broke a toy off the string, she strutted away with pride.

The keepers talked to us about the penguin lifecycle, feather markings, how they stay warm in frigid temperatures and so much more. It was a question-led discussion, which kept all the kids in the room hanging on each word. At the end we all got to pet the oil-slicked top coat feathers of OG, and she obliged us with a photo as well.

The keepers described the penguins in their care as a cross between a toddler and a cat, which was a perfectly accurate explanation of our experience with these flightless birds! Tanganyika also offers amazing “swim with the penguin” experiences; however with two littles in tow, we decided to stay on dry land.

Park Tips

Visiting Tanganyika is easily a full-day event. Each reserved animal experience lasts about an hour, and there is more than enough to do between bookings. There are 15 animal exhibits, three interactive areas and eight feeding stations total, five of which are included in regular park admission. Planning your visit is just a matter of prioritizing which animals you would like to see first!

If visiting during the warmer months, check out the Tanganyika Falls Splash Park. This jungle gym and splash pad combination is the perfect place to cool off and recharge after walking around the park. Next to the splash park are picnic tables (for those who opt to bring their own food and snacks) as well as park restaurant Luna’s Canteen. The Thirsty Sloth sells adult beverages such as tap beer, margaritas and sangria.

We recommend packing snacks, water bottles, water shoes, sunscreen and hats.

Lodging & Local Eats

Vacation rental homes are usually ideal for our family with two small children who have early bedtimes. Airbnb highlights several affordable craftsman bungalows in College Hill, a community just east of downtown. This beautiful, historic neighborhood has many walkable amenities like a park, restaurants, shops and ice cream cafes. Tanganyika also has an Airbnb on-site.

If local boutique hotels are more desirable, Wichita offers several, including The Ambassador, The Hotel at Old Town and the Drury Hotel. All three are located downtown and offer walkable amenities and fun eats.

For families of early risers, check out HomeGrown for brunch. Started by a husband and wife team under the motto “if we help each other start the day right, we’re certain we will also awaken a chain of positive acts that cultivate kindness throughout our community,” the concept has now grown to six locations throughout Kansas.

The restaurant serves up fun dishes to entertain the kid in all of us, including homemade pop tarts, carrot cake pancakes and cinnamon swirl French toast. For the breakfast traditionalists, there are also mouth-watering staples on the menu.

For lunchtime, visit Public at the Brickyard in Old Town for a mix of a pub feel for the parents but with a menu and space accommodating of kids. The indoor-outdoor space leaves room for little ones to stretch, and the eclectic antiques on the walls are a source of constant amusement. The menu features brew pub eats with kids’ items such as the “Lunch-a-Boat,” which includes a fruit, cheese and veggie assortment.

Wichita is a close-to-home treasure with a laid-back pace and midwestern values. Our experiences at Tanganyika Wildlife Park left us feeling grateful for time together to interact with nature and create memories to last a lifetime. 

The full range of experiences are open to those 8 years and older and a more limited number of experiences will be available to those ages 3 to 7. Children under the age of 16 must have an adult participant with them.

Editor’s note: Tanganyika Wildlife Park is one of the largest family-owned zoos in the country and the third-largest animal collection in Kansas. The park is accredited by the Zoological Association of America and its primary goal is the conservation of animals through helping visitors improve their connection with the wonders of the animal world to encourage stewardship and education and being one of the premier facilities for breeding endangered species. Learn more at twpark.com.

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