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Timbavati Wildlife Park The Waterpark Capital's Splash in the Zoo World | Review of Timbavati Wildlife Park

Discussion in 'United States' started by Milwaukee Man, 31 Oct 2022.

  1. Milwaukee Man

    Milwaukee Man Well-Known Member 10+ year member

    1 Aug 2011
    Milwaukee, WI, USA
    Happy Halloween! No tricks here, but a little treat for you: a review of a place I visited back in late July.

    Review of Timbavati Wildlife Park

    Amongst all the waterpark resorts and sandstone formations that made the Wisconsin Dells famous, there is this little 25-acre animal attraction. It was a bit challenging to find some of the history on this place, so some of this comes from brochures I recall reading when I was younger. From what I can tell, the Park opened in 2001, originally as part of a former attraction known as “Storybook Gardens,” which was closed in 2011. A couple years later, the animal collection was moved to its present location across from Mt. Olympus, taking over land that once hosted a now-closed waterpark. Since that time, it has continued to expand and seemingly add new animals with each year, along with a partnership with the nearby Kalahari Resort (complimentary tickets are provided with a stay at the resort). Today, the Zoo consists of around 400 specimens, making up around 75 different types of animals.

    It was rather intriguing to observe how this facility emerged from the shadows of not just Wisconsin zoological collections, but within the Wisconsin Dells area as well. The Wisconsin Deer Park has been around for a long time and touched upon many generations; Alligator Alley is down the road and seems fairly well-known; and a short drive to Baraboo means access to the International Crane Foundation and Ochsner Park Zoo. But then, this Park opened and seemed to make a name of itself rather quickly in the area. On top of that, it stands as the “mainstream” zoo of the town, something that the Dells was surprisingly lacking until then. So with all this in mind, how does Timbavati stand on its own?

    Animal Exhibit Complexes

    Mammal Exhibits – Scattered around the establishment are several enclosures of varying quality. Starting in one of the corners of the property, there is a winding boardwalk that passes four different exhibits. Up first are two dusty exhibits for prairie dogs and American badgers that are fairly spacious, followed by a red panda habitat that looks to be one of the newer additions to the Park. The outdoor enclosure is on the whole average; although there is a large span of windows for great viewing, and it is spacious and grassy, the only climbing apparatus is a large cluster of logs, and it would also benefit from more foliage. The indoor room, on the other hand, works well; not only is there a good amount of ground space, but the vertical area is also substantial. The pandas can get quite high off the ground with several ramps and platforms – there is even a window looking into the chilled environment. Although not in the same level as exhibits like Columbus or D.C., I will admit this exhibit is one of the facility’s better ones. The last exhibit in the boardwalk area is “Kangaroo Walkabout,” a small open area where guests and roos can freely roam side-by-side. Elsewhere, there are a number of primate exhibits that look more-or-less identical to one another. The spider monkeys (which have the largest enclosure of the bunch), black-and-white ruffed lemurs, white-handed gibbons, and one other primate species (don’t recall) each have small or mid-sized grassy cages with a few ropes, and a window into their indoor rooms.

    Bird Exhibits –
    Most of Timbavati’s feathered denizens are located closer to the park entrance. Several species such as Abyssinian ground hornbill, red-legged seriema, African pied crow, crested barbet, raven, impeyan, and curassow (plus North American porcupines) are all within a row of cages. Other than a few species like the barbets, these are quite small for their occupants, particularly the larger birds like the seriemas and hornbills. They also offer minimal furnishings, with mainly a few branches and rocks to keep their occupants busy. Amongst the domestic animals, there is a long, covered cage called “Parakeet Encounter.” Guests can purchase feed sticks, and walk amongst the birds to a central plaza in the middle of the aviary; budgies, cocketiels, and even quails can be found darting about in here. Back near the entrance, what appears to have once been an old swimming pool has been repurposed for a small rookery of African penguins. It’s an impressive size, though it is rather shallow, and the land area is tiny. The nicest of the bird exhibits in the Zoo is situated next-door: a lush, mid-sized lagoon for lesser flamingos that can be seen from both an overlook and through wiring. Lastly, peach faced lovebirds (a first for me) have a long cage next to the giraffe barn.

    Feline Center – Ahhh yes, the infamous cat “desert” exhibits. :p Okay, to be serious, only two of the five exhibits have this design. Lions and Bengal tigers both reside in wire-fronted exhibits that are on the small side. The majority of the space is barren, with a small pool, mostly sandy substrate with little grass, and minimal furnishings apart from a rock formation. These are not the most successful of their kind, but they are stronger than the other exhibits behind them. The trio of woodchip-filled cages (housing clouded leopards, cougars, and Carpathian lynx) are tiny for their occupants. The one positive feature I noted amongst these cages was the rocky stream in the cougar cage, which at least added some variation.

    Woodlands –
    Nestled in the back of the facility, across a bridge that goes over a deep and stunning ravine, is a series of chain-link enclosures housing mostly hoofstock. For the most part, these are a good size for their occupants, with the bongo exhibit being the exception. One element that the complex takes advantage of is the forest setting. The exhibits are well-shaded, with only some rays of sun hitting the ground; this especially works for the more forest-based animals such as the anoa. I also liked the pathway implemented; while the entry area is paved, it soon transitions to a dirt trail. Actually side-stepping some large roots made for a neat experience, and probably the closest to an immersive experience that Timbavati has to offer. Species list: African spurred tortoise, red kangaroo, emu (including a couple white ones, which is another first), llama, greater kudu, bongo, lowland anoa, African crowned crane (didn’t see), and wallaby. This is probably the strongest of Timbavati’s exhibit complexes, but this is mainly based on the strength of the setting and species on display.

    Petting Zoo –
    A wide variety of goats, sheep, alpacas, etc. are situated near the boardwalk area. For the most part, these animals reside in basic pens that allow one to get up-close, feed, and give them a good neck scratch. The most prominent of these has to be “Goat Mountain,” a nice-sized goat area (with plenty of tiny babies) that can be viewed both indoors and out. The barn has a single stall for the goats, with a number of platforms leading up to an opening. This opening then leads to a wooden bridge that they cross in order to reach a circular pen. This particular section was located on an incline, and it took advantage of the landscape pretty well, offering a unique experience for both guests and goats.

    Nursery –
    Notoriously, a good amount of the animals resided in this pair of buildings towards the Zoo’s early days. From photos I’ve seen, these included cages with minimal to no detail, whether that was a tamandua with no branches to climb or alligators with nothing more than a large bowl of water to take a dip in. Fortunately, those days are long gone and although the buildings would benefit from further improvements, I give credit for how far they’ve come over the years. The first building has the stronger theming, with artificial rockwork making up the exhibits’ barriers, while vast windows allow for close views – some of these can even be seen from outside too. The enclosures themselves are basic in appearance and mostly identical in size (except for the bats, which have the largest enclosure here), with woodchip substrate, and the occasional furnishing such as logs or climbing branches. For some animals like the tamarins and bats they are a decent size; others like the lemurs and monitor, however, can use an expansion. Next door, guests are set up on another path with enclosures on both sides, cumulating at a dead end. Exhibits here are mostly narrow pens with little detail and shavings for substrate. The exception to this is the sloth enclosure; it’s the largest of the bunch, and features a large climbing structure of logs. It’s the less successful of the two buildings overall, though seeing some of these animals up-close in open-air was fascinating. Honestly, with the right adjustments such as moving some the primates (most of which consist of only one specimen per exhibit I’ll add), closing off the exterior windows, and joining these two buildings together, I can see this being a decent nocturnal house. Some of the species in the first building: fennec fox, Nile monitor, ring-tailed lemur, red-handed tamarin, douroucouli (including a baby), cotton top tamarin, and fruit bats. The second building housed maras (including a couple babies), baby nilgai, a baby North American porcupine, tortoises (don’t remember the species), emu chicks, and sloths.

    Reptile House –
    The newest complex to open at Timbavati, having just debuted this summer. In fact, it’s so new, that only a portion of the project was open at the time of my visit. With the components that did get done, there is a single hallway with reptile terrariums on each side. These are all fairly basic in presentation, surrounded by rock work, and variable in size depending on the occupants (some include blue-tongued skink, spider tortoise, and ball python). It isn’t anything fancy, but like what happened with the Nursery area, I’m sure it will be built up further over time. When I was there, work was still being done on an exterior portion of the complex. These include a large walkthrough exhibit (I’d assume this will be an aviary), and a number of exterior enclosures connected to the building (I saw a few of these completed and occupied by pheasants).

    – This complex has a train ride as its primary draw, although a portion of the enclosures can be seen from the paths. Going in order of the railroad tracks, a large paddock for a herd of alpacas is first seen. Presumably, this habitat once held zebras, ostrich, and wildebeest because the train’s narration was describing these animals’ traits – yet none were anywhere to be seen! :confused: Across the tracks, there is a long, spacious habitat containing several aoudads (including a few babies), which have a rocky mini-mountain to clamber around on. Next, there is a single male white rhinoceros, and to be honest, my opinion of Timbavati can be easily described with this exhibit. The enclosure is huge, a mix of grass and sand, it’s a bit hilly, and it is even shared with a flock of guineafowl; however, that’s all there is. It has the potential to be a great habitat for the horned pachyderms, but it could greatly use a number of additions and improvements, such as naturalistic features, enrichment items, and expanded shade to get out of the beaming sun. Moving along, the train passes through a large pasture, stopping for a while to allow guests to feed the inhabitants, which include nilgai, miniature zebu, and waterbuck. Finally, the train also stops at a feeding station for two taller species; the giraffes and Bactrian camels can be fed carrots from a deck that offers some great close encounters. Not many zoos offer camel feeding experiences to my knowledge, so this was a neat treat. As for the habitats they occupy, they are essentially narrow, grassy lanes lined with rockwork, and no other features. After another look at the rhino and alpacas, the train returns to the station.

    Visitor Experiences

    Let me start this part of the review by saying that Timbavati offers a pretty great first impression. As one is trying to find a parking spot or walking towards the ticket booth, the perimeter walls can be seen. These aren’t just ordinary boundaries though - rather, they are lined with beautiful wildlife photos, featuring some of the animals one is prepared to meet, all while leading to an entrance adorned with modern bricks, and the Zoo’s sign proudly standing on top. Even the gathering area inside looks great as well. There is a lovely lagoon where I saw a family of wild ducks calmly swimming and exploring amongst the lily pads, and even a few structures made of stone, including a shaded passage that lines the pond. Going past this pretty setting, the main building style appears to be a ribbed or corrugated metal. This is present in almost all the structures of the Zoo, and while it gives a modern and new feel to the place, it does also feel on the amateurish and cut-rate side of things. This is most noticeable with some of the exhibit barriers, in comparison to a more natural option. In terms of the layout, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, the establishment is primarily built on the site of an old waterpark. This is most evident in that the main property sits mostly on asphalt. It’s easy to see some buildings and exhibits from a distance, which are scattered all around the area. There are some areas lined with bushes, flowers, or small trees that do make some areas look pretty, though some additional foliage would help further enhance the site and obscure some of the views. Speaking of which, the other portion of the Park is in the Woodlands complex, which as stated, is set across a ravine in a forest edge, providing a peaceful setting away from the hustle and bustle of the town and busy roads.

    Beyond the entrance plaza, guests have several amenities at their disposal. Starting with the eateries, the “Snack Shack” is a tiny outdoor diner across from the Feline Center, while between the entrance and gift shop there’s “Goody Goody Gum Drop,” a candy shop that I didn’t enter, but appeared to be pretty big from the outside, and I can imagine this being a hit with kids. The train ride that guests take in order to fully experience the Grasslands complex was described earlier, so I’ll highlight the other attractions offered. Near the “Snack Shack” is a little amphitheater for presenting wildlife ambassadors at various times of the day; near the Reptile House is a tall tower that is one of the very clear remnants from the previous waterpark existence; and camel and pony rides are available in the Woodlands area.

    HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: One of the neat parts of the Woodlands complex is that most of the animals can be fed by guests. On my visit, I had an excellent encounter with the greater kudu. I already find them to be one of the most majestic antelope around; however, this was the first time I experienced the species up-close! :) I had a magnificent bull come up to the fence, nibbling away at the carrots I offered him. What surprised me was that, unless this male wasn’t fully grown or mature, the species was a little smaller than expected. Nonetheless, it didn’t take away from what certainly was a memorable experience with an awesome antelope!

    OVERALL: If there’s two words that best describe Timbavati Wildlife Park, it would be “unfulfilled potential.” On one hand, the animal collection is well-rounded with a number of familiar faces and a few rarities, complimented by the guest amenities and attractions that make for a solid visitor-friendly experience. On the other hand, however, the mish-mash of exhibitry and haphazard layout hold it back when compared to various other zoos. It is a real shame because it is located in one of the state’s biggest tourist hotspots; with the right adjustments, it could be a nice attraction and break from plunging down the many waterslides in town. I can see families and those who wish to see a few rare species getting the most out of this attraction. Having said that, there are a number of other wildlife attractions I’d point to as more successful alternatives.

    On the bright side, according to the map, there is a large chunk of land that seems to take up about 30% of the main Zoo area labeled “Future Expansion.” No plans have been revealed for the area yet, but I hope whatever is in store can help steer the establishment in the right direction.
  2. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member 5+ year member

    17 Sep 2017
    Thanks so much for this review! It sounds like the place has improved a lot! I've been meaning to check this place out again, and it sounds like I'll be able to do this without feeling bad about myself. I'm shocked that they've been able to add species such as penguins, flamingoes, and Red Pandas. It sounds like this facility is headed in a similar direction to Wildwood Wildlife Park?

    Given this zoo's great location, huge visitor counts, and large area, it has always had potential. I'd love to see a day when it becomes one of Wisconsin's great zoos.
    Milwaukee Man likes this.
  3. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member 15+ year member Premium Member

    1 Dec 2007
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    Thanks very much for the review. When I visited in 2014 I posted some photos of some shockingly awful exhibits that were obviously subpar, but it appears that the zoo has changed for the better. Still, it wouldn't take much to add more furnishings to many of the enclosures and that Feline Center is nowhere near adequate. In fact, those cat cages probably look the same these days and in many European nations they would be illegal in terms of size. I was appalled at probably 80% of the zoo's exhibits in 2014 and I'd love to see an updated set of photos, as I'm the only ZooChatter to ever upload photos of the zoo into the gallery.

    *I recommend for zoo nerds to check out the photos I uploaded in 2014 as there are some that showcase some horrific enclosures. Even the Cougar one is puny and that's the best of the carnivore cages!
    Milwaukee Man and StoppableSan like this.
  4. Milwaukee Man

    Milwaukee Man Well-Known Member 10+ year member

    1 Aug 2011
    Milwaukee, WI, USA
    I appreciate the replies! :)

    @birdsandbats It's funny because I’ve heard mixed opinions from a wide variety of people about this facility. Admittedly, I was more prepared to experience something similar to what I’ve seen in photos. While there is still room for improvement as noted, I was pleased to find it a little better than I expected.

    @snowleopard Well you’re in luck, I just uploaded some photos from my visit!
    snowleopard and birdsandbats like this.