After being closed due to tornado damage, Wild Animal Safari reopened Saturday

Published 4:06 pm Saturday, April 15, 2023

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By Charlotte Reames

Wild Animal Safari in Pine Mountain welcomed guests back on Saturday after three weeks of tornado clean-up from the March 26 storm.

Zookeeper Katie Harrison and Parks America CEO Lisa Brady announced the reopening of the drive-through portion of the park during a press conference.

“We’re excited to see everybody again. We’re really excited about rebuilding,” Harrison said during the press conference. 

Saturday marks the first phase of the park’s reopening. During this phase, guests who order a ticket online and join the mailing list will receive a return ticket for any weekday from June 6 to the end of September. 

Guests packed up in safari trucks to see the animals. 

“The park animals are probably equally or more so excited. They really rely on Spring Break for lots of guests to come through and feed them,” Brady said during the press conference. “So they’ll be ready.”

Water Buffalo, giraffes, bison, zebras and emus greeted their first guests in 20 days.

“Our kids love the movie Madagascar. So we figured we could see some of the animals from the movie we’ve been watching,” said Katelyn King. 

King and her husband, Forrest, drove all the way to the Wild Animal Safari from McDonough. They hadn’t visited since their kids were born and hoped to show their kids the park for the first time. 

“We’re looking forward to seeing our kids’ reaction. Hopefully, an animal sticks their head in,” King said.

Heidi McAllister and her family traveled from Paulding County, to camp at the Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park. They visit the Wild Animal Safari anytime they come to the area. 

McAllister said they came out on Saturday to support the reopening.

“We love coming here, and it’s something that our granddaughter enjoys,” McAllister said. “We brought some new friends along this time.”

Paula and Larry Boone brought their Campers and Dancers group to visit the park for their annual camping trip. 

“I hate the devastation that the park has had, but I’m so thankful that they’re back up,” Paula Boone said.

The group of 29 campers travel around Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida every year. They planned the trip a month in advance and were thankful to see it back open.

“They’ve done a great job of putting it all back together,” said Larry Boone.

During the clean-up after the March 26 tornado, maintenance crews of more than 100 removed over 4,500 trees from the area.

“The magnitude of tree fall was just incredible,” Brady said.

The staff worked approximately 900 hours on clearing the park of tornado debris.

“I’m really grateful again for our maintenance team, our zookeepers, all of our staff here, everybody who has come to help out,” Harrison said.

The next phase will focus on partially reopening the walkabout section of the park in late May. Brady and McAllister announced that the park will introduce two new exhibits during this phase. 

“We’re going to rebuild even better than we were before,” Harrison said.

An aviary enclosure will house macaws and budgie parrots. Guests will have an area to feed the budgie parrots. The other new exhibit will feature ring-tailed Madagascan lemurs.

Brady said the park staff is focusing on continuing conservation efforts and animal habitats to enhance the educational environment.

All of the work going on at the walkabout section won’t be completed until next year, but some of the walkabout section will open in the coming months.

This phase will include a renovated hyena exhibit and expanded tiger, wolf, singing dog habitats.

“The best thing people can do to help is continue to think about us, support us, follow us on social media, share our posts and come and visit us,” Brady said. “We can’t wait to have people back in the gates.”