Smile Politely

Summer safari in Central Illinois

Small talk is impossible this time of year without mentioning how god-awful hot it is. Every conversation ends with a hopeful, “Stay cool out there,” as a slow trickle of sweat works its way into all your nooks and crannies. Summertime is also when parents and caregivers have hours and hours of their children’s time to fill up, a time when, “I’m bored,” means the same thing to a kid as, “I have a life-threatening injury that requires your immediate attention.” While C-U is full of family friendly activities, I personally take great joy in pointing folks to the wonder of small towns. And so, let me introduce you to Central Illinois’ very own safari park at Aikman Wildlife Adventure.

Halfway between Arthur and Arcola, the Wildlife Adventure has a huge draw: You can experience the park from the comfort of your own vehicle while that sweet, sweet AC blasts through the vents. The Safari Drive-Thru is a mile of winding dirt road. How close do the animals get? The zedonk pictured walked right up and stared me down with one eye, willing me to break the park rules and feed him out the car window. Sadly for this zedonk, I’ve seen those YouTube videos of animals sticking their freakishly long tongues in people’s ears and decided to follow this rule (plus I’m not sharing that sweet, sweet AC). Side note: My life is richer for knowing that the star-crossed offspring of a donkey and a zebra is called a zedonk.

If you’re concerned for the welfare of animals in this heat, they do have plenty of shade and a large pond in which to cool off, as well as plenty of muddy pits to rolls around in for that natural sunscreen. Plus, many of these animals, like camels and zebras, hail from hot climates and have evolved to handle high temperatures much better than pasty humans like myself.

The drive-thru features an array of animals from exotic to common. As impressive as the mighty buffalo or giant-horned watusi were, I still squealed like a small child at the sight of a baby goose — SO. FLUFFY.— and can’t resist calling huge draft horses “widdle ponies.” Though the gangly, awkward adolescent llama might have been my favorite.

If your car is full of little animal lovers, the Wildlife Adventure gets better. The Safari Drive-Thru is just one aspect of this park. Wagon tours allow takes you on a guided tour in an open-air wagon. Food is provided so those hungry zedonks can get the snack they’ve been waiting for. There’s also a petting zoo with fallow deer and pygmy goats, among other soft and approachable animals.

One thing missing from the animals described in the Safari Drive-Thru: predators. For obvious reasons, all the animals that share the Safari space are herbivores. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find carnivores at the park. The Walk-Thru Adventure takes you through several exhibits of animals that don’t play as well with others, like wolf-hybrids and hyenas, as well as less obvious trouble-makers like kangaroos and lemurs. Smaller animals also have their own exhibits, like rabbits, porcupines, and servals.

If you start to feel peckish during your visit, the Wildlife Park does have a Watering Hole with pretzels, cookies, ice cream, and beverages. Also, Reclaimed Foods & Spirit is a full service restaurant and bar attached to the park, though not run by the Aikmans. Reclaimed offers American fair like burgers and flatbreads.

A season pass for a family of four is $125, or $150 for a family of five or more. Individual season passes are also available. A single ticket for the Wagon Tour is $16 per adult, $13 for kids aged 3-12, and free for children two and under. The Wagon Tour ticket also allows you to enter the Walk-Thru Adventure. If you’re driving your own vehicle, the cost for the Safari Drive-Thru plus Walk-Thru Adventure is $11/adult, $8/child, and free for children two and under. For just the Walk-Thru, the cost is $7/adult, $5/child, and free for children two and under. If you pass on the Walk-Thru to enjoy the sweet, sweet AC, the cost for the Drive-Thru only is $25 per vehicle.

Aikman Wildlife Adventure is the perfect family adventure for a hot summer day. It’s small and inexpensive enough to not be overwhelming for an afternoon activity but unique enough to entertain the whole family. Who knows, maybe a camel will stick its tongue in your ear, and you’ll be YouTube famous.

Aikman Wildlife Adventure
125 N Country Road 425 E
Arcola, IL 61910
Su 12 to 5 p.m.
M 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Th-Sa 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photos by Elisabeth Paulus

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