The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 16, 2013

Dave Woods: Exotic animals provide adventure in Branson

By Dave Woods
dwoods@joplinglobe.com

BRANSON, Mo. — I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into Branson’s Wild World. Neither did Denita Brooks.

“Wow,” Denita said as she leaned over a large tank watching, Gary, her husband, feed a giant sea turtle named Savannah. “I really like the place. It’s impressive that you get to feed her.”

Savannah, a loggerhead sea turtle, was rescued from peril along the Florida coast. She is one of the first interactive exhibits you encounter on your journey through the aquarium and indoor zoo attraction.



Place to be for animal lovers

“If you are an animal lover, it’s so cool,” said Gary, as a staff member speared up a turtle treat for the giant shell back to nosh. “The staff is very helpful. I’ve never fed a huge turtle. That was impressive and unexpected.”

Unexpected is correct. I wasn’t prepared for the wild adventure that lay ahead.

I had noticed the iguana-topped Wild World sign as I passed by on the strip. I ventured into the live, interactive animal adventure on a recent Branson trip.

Wild World offered more than I expected. More snakes, more spiders and more carnivorous plants and other exotic flora and fauna than I knew existed in the Ozarks.

Just off the strip, Wild World offers hands-on animal experiences, educational staff interaction, a 3-D blacklight mini golf course, jungle-themed arcade games and a bucking hammerhead shark ride in the lobby. They had me at bucking shark.



Snakes, more snakes

Shark ride aside, the collection of interesting and exotic animals is the attraction’s focus.

“We get a lot of mixed reactions,” said Samuel Lund, a Wild World staffer. “People enjoy the introduction to the animals they can’t get to see anyplace else around. People get to see things here they don’t get at other aquariums. One of my favorite things is to help people get over their fear of animals.”

Fear is an understatement. I can’t even watch snakes on television, let alone take advantage of the opportunity to let them slither onto my arm. I was in the minority that day. Many of the guests enjoyed holding the nonvenomous reptiles, letting them climb and wrap around their limbs.

While other Wild World visitors stopped and pressed their noses against the glass enclosures containing a large collection of dangerous reptiles, I was more comfortable hanging at the bull shark tank, observing the friendly turtle, staring down glassed-in gators and petting the New Guinea singing dogs.

Even the British Columbian wolves didn’t make me squeamish. To each his own fears, huh?

“The collection of animals we have is impressive,” Samuel said. “We really enjoy interacting with our guests.”

Just for the record, much like Indiana Jones, I don’t like snakes. I’m fine with spiders, but snakes are a different story — a Biblical story. Luckily Wild World offers much more than slithering and scampering reptiles.

Don’t misunderstand me. They offer a wide variety of deadly, poisonous vipers and constrictors for those snake fans out there. Snake folks will be impressed. I averted my eyes and hustled through the snake section before dashing into another area of the attraction.



Big, bad wolves?

I soon realized I had stumbled upon a group of British Columbian wolves. Tyler Seager, the young staff member tending to the Canadian wolves’ needs, answered visitors’ questions and shared the wolves’ tales.

He amazed me and the other visitors by entering the wolves’ enclosure. Even large dogs scare me, so wolves? No way. I think it’s called “Red Riding Hood Syndrome.”

While big, the six B.C. wolves didn’t seem too bad. Tyler charmed them for a few quick photos. They are, it seemed, a little camera shy.

“I’ve been interacting with them since they were two weeks old,” Tyler said. “People don’t believe it. They don’t think they are wolves most of the time.”

Tyler emerged from the wolf experience and next brought out one of the attraction’s two New Guinea singing dogs. It looked akin to a dingo, or at least what I think a dingo looks like. The friendly canine was a little more my speed.

“The New Guinea singing dogs are going extinct in the wild,” he said to the group that gathered to watch the young man hang with the wolves. “I’m one of the main guys who handle the wolves. People have a misconception of them. I think it’s cool I can get so close.”

Done with the turtles, gators, lizards, sharks, wolves, musical dogs and deadly fish, I moved toward the exit. On the way I encountered carnivorous plants, large spiders and a couple of friendly rabbits — again, bunnies are more my speed — and then was back on the mean streets of Branson.

The mean, snake-free streets of Branson.



Ready for show

Several new exhibits are set to open to the public today, including a “Deadly and Dangerous” experience featuring some of the world’s most dangerous spiders, fish, snakes and octopi. New live animal exhibits are scheduled to open throughout the early summer.