Central Illinois safari
See kangaroos from your car at Aikman Wildlife Adventure
James Aikman was surprised more people didn’t think he was crazy when he announced plans to build a wildlife park. Located between Arthur and Arcola, the 40-acre park opened in March 2016 on the former Rockome Gardens property.
Since opening, Aikman Wildlife Adventure has drawn more than 32,000 visitors. “I’m pleased with the reception we’ve gotten,” Aikman said. “More people need to know that we’re here.”
The idea for Illinois’ first drive-through wildlife park first came to him in October 2013. He had a dream about him and his wife, Kelsey, owning and operating a wildlife park. At first she thought he was crazy but told him if God wanted them to do this, He would find a way to make it happen.
Open Saturdays and Sundays, Aikman Wildlife Adventure is located at 125 North County Road 425E in Arcola. For more information, call 217-268-3500 or visit their website at www.aikmanwildlife.com. Find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AikmanWildlife.
“I did question why a wildlife park,” he said, when there were so many other things they could do. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s glad he’s persevered and seen it through.
Plans were to start small. “I wanted to create a place for animals that needed a home,” he said. The park houses more than 200 animals, representing 65 different species, native to six different continents.
None of the animals come from the wild. “That goes against what I wanted to do,” he said. “Most were born and raised in the Midwest.”
First-time visitors get excited when they spy an animal along the one-mile drive-through. “It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when a bison walks up to your vehicle,” he said. It’s an experience you won’t have in a zoo.
Among the animal adventures the park offers are wagon tours led by experienced guides, where visitors are able to feed the animals. For the ultimate up-close-and-personal animal encounter, go behind the scenes and join one of the park’s guides and carve your own path through the drive-through in the park’s six-seat side-by-side UTV.
He strives to re-create the animals’ natural habitats. Among the animals visitors see when they walk through the park are hyenas, kangaroos, zebras, wallabies, ring-tailed lemurs and more. Included as part of the walk-through is the petting zoo, where visitors can feed the animals, take a camel ride or have an animal encounter.
Plans are to introduce one or two exhibits each year. Upcoming exhibits include Aviary Adventure and Wolf Haven, which opens next year. Eventually he’d like to bring in larger animals such as bears, giraffes, sable antelopes and predators like lions and tigers.
He has created a world-class fun, family-safe environment where people can see amazing animals and make new memories. “It’s a different experience every time you go through,” he said. “This is something everyone can do together,” he added, and loves to see families come out. He’s had parents tell him how difficult it is to find something that the whole family can enjoy.
When asked if he would do it again, he said he wouldn’t change anything. “When people thank me for doing this, it makes it all worthwhile.”
Roberta Codemo writes full time from her Springfield apartment that she shares with a wild Felis catus named Coal, who specializes in attacking her feet and ankles. Find out more at https://codemowritingservices.com/.