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Rural Missouri Magazine

Where the wild things are


Exotic Animal Paradise, Strafford

by Jarrett Medlin

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.

Exotic 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.

 

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