We kick off a new series called "Central." We’ll be road tripping up Central Avenue, from South Mountain to North Mountain over the next few weeks.
Get Up Close To Exotic Animals At The New Safari Park
Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium has expanded to include a Safari Park. The West Valley zoo just added a new area that people can walk through or see by train. The addition allows guests to get closer to the animals.
A couple of colorful macaws greet visitors as they walk into the park. Kids splash their way through puddles from a recent storm. When the park opened 30 years ago in Litchfield Park, owner Mickey Ollsen wanted to be different.
“We didn’t want to duplicate what all of these institutions were doing very well. So we decided to specialize in exotic animals,” Ollsen said.
The zoo has more than 600 different species, including a white lion, hyenas, wallabies and lots of fish.
“People like the closeness, and at this zoo we try to get people as close as they possibly can," Ollsen said.
He isn’t kidding about getting close. The park features a petting zoo and the chance to walk through exhibits. One of the most popular is giraffe feeding.
The park also has six different rides, including a sky ride, Australian boat ride and safari tram.
In the new safari park visitors walk through a big wooden archway and either climb on the tram or start heading down the path. Walls of palms trees and exotic plants, and wild animals from all over the world surround you. The only thing that separates you from the beasts is a chain-link fence.
“The aquarium took us to another level, and obviously the safari is just icing on that cake," Ollsen said.
The park is currently sitting on 80 acres of land, but its not the size of the park that makes in successful.
“You can have a very fine institution and a very small number of animals from an acre to up to hundreds of acres," said Alan Sorronan, who is on the board of directors of the Zoological Association of America.
He said the Litchfield Park location is one of more than two dozen of the parks in his association that are expanding.
Sorronan said that members of his association have come from around the country to check out the park.
“This new safari’s ride area, which is pretty exciting; people can get on a little ride and you can go see animals as potentially how they were if they were out in a safari," he said.
The zoo has plans to expand even more in the next two to three years, by building four more rides and adding more exhibits.
This story is part of a collaboration between the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and KJZZ.