the wild things are
Exotic Animal Paradise, Strafford
For 35 years, Exotic Animal Paradise
has offered up- close and personal experiences with rare, beautiful
animals to visitors of southwest Missouri — all from the safety
of their own cars.
It’s not unusual to see zebras, camels and even bison stick their
heads in car windows along the four-mile journey that winds through
hilly Ozark terrain. Visitors might also catch a glimpse of an African
lion, a white tiger or any number of the park’s 1,500 animals.
Animal Paradise was first established in 1971 by John “Pat” Jones,
father of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. He set aside 400 acres of his Buena
Vista Ranch near Strafford for the sole purpose of providing a place for visitors
to interact with rare creatures from around the world. Jones sold it in 1995
to Ron and Brenda Armitage, who have continued his legacy.
Today, more than 8 million people have passed through the park’s gates,
and Rural Missouri readers consistently rank it among the state’s top “roadside
attractions” in our annual “Best of Rural Missouri” feature.
This summer, however, may mark the end of an era. Armitage recently announced
he sold the land because the park is no longer financially feasible. The park
is scheduled to close Oct. 1. The animals will be sold at auction and the land’s
new owner, Lake of the Ozarks area developer Tony Oddo, plans to build a housing
development. That means visitors have just two months to see a Missouri institution
one last time.
For information about Exotic Animal Paradise, call 1-888-570-9898 or visit www.exoticanimalparadise.com.
UPDATE: Exotic Animal Paradise is now Wild Animal Safari. For more information, visit www.goanimalparadise.com/index.php or call 417-859-5300.