Jay Christie left his job in 2014 as the Racine Zoo’s CEO after 16 years, to begin work on what he said would be the state’s first safari park.
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On Aug. 1, he will open Safari Lake Geneva, a 75-acre safari park on Litchfield Road in the Village of Bloomfield, about five miles southeast of downtown Lake Geneva.
The park will open with about 75 ungulates, or hoofed animals, and dozens of birds. Examples of animals planned for the safari park include camels, bison, zebras, antelope, llamas, ostriches and alpacas.
“They are not so safe that you could walk among them, because of their size, but they are not really much more dangerous than dairy farm animals,” Christie said.
The animals will primarily be on loan from other zoos, although some will be purchased. Christie chose the ungulate species because they are rarely found at zoos, which typically choose to spend limited resources and space on lions, tigers, bears and apes, he said.
“These animals do much better in the type of situation we have here,” Christie said. “They will think they’ve died and gone to heaven with so many acres and the natural terrain. It will allow them to display behaviors people have not seen.”
Christie’s first job in the zoo industry was at one of the largest safari parks in North America, African Lion Safari in Cambridge, Ontario. Since then, he has gone on several African safaris and visited dozens of safari parks, inspiring him to open his own.
“The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is my favorite, but I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, that’s the gold standard,” Christie said. “One that might be more relate-able is Safari Wilderness Ranch in Florida.”
Christie searched for about six years before finding the right location for the safari park, purchasing the 75 acres of land in May, which now includes his home and several barns. The property is surrounded by 800 acres of land owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
He said getting approvals from the village for the safari park was "a breeze."
Christie estimates the safari park will cost about $500,000 a year to operate. He plans on having a staff of five in the beginning, who will drive guests through the park on one of three covered wagons, which seats about 30 people.
The one-hour guided safari tour will give guests an up-close look at the animals and be interactive, Christie said. He did not say what the admission price will be, but said it will be competitive with other area attractions.
As of right now, Christie is counting on ticket sales to sustain the park.
“I’m hoping people book online
so they aren’t disappointed when they get here and see it’s sold out,” Christie said.