It’s a zoo out there.
From African porcupines and albino American alligators to baby zebras and Zemora, a 5-year-old pygmy hippo, animals from everyday to exotic and all over Kentucky are hatching, hopping, preening, slothing—and waiting to be fed, fawned over and photographed by their fans. Meet them during animal encounter shows, on a Kentucky-style safari and from a rope bridge suspended mere inches above a shiver of sharks.
Wendt’s Wildlife Adventure, Carlisle
See animals from around the world at this bustling family farm, including sloths, kangaroos, camels, capybara, zebras, reptiles, African porcupines, alpaca, sheep, goats and more—around 35 species in all.
Served by Blue Grass Energy, Wendt’s Wildlife Adventure opened to the public in 2021, but founders Shaun and Julie Wendt had been providing petting zoos, camel rides and pig races at events across the eastern United States since 1996.
Today, the Wendts’ adult sons, Colt and Eli, are also involved in the family business, handling everything from animal care and construction to groundskeeping and gift shop. The couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Eva, also lends a hand.
“Eva loves to give tours and get to know the customers,” her mom says. “She also loves to help with the bottle feeding when we have an animal that needs extra care.”
Feed the birds at the parakeet encounter as well as the farm’s camels, cattle, goats, sheep, alpacas and kangaroos. The adventure also includes a playground, small splash pad, picnic areas and gift shop with metal art, toys and treats, including ice cream, candy and slushies. There’s even Brushy Creek to explore and the historic restored Daniel Boone Cabin to tour.
Elk & Bison Prairie, Golden Pond
At the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is a 700-acre home where the bison roam and the elk and other wildlife play. Served by Pennyrile Electric, the Elk & Bison Prairie offers a safari experience as well as a snapshot of what a native grassland habitat looked like more than a century ago.
“To see the size of a bison up close, an elk roaming, learn how the prairie was used historically, and all the other critters that live there is a unique experience,” says Emily Cleaver, public affairs specialist. “There really is nothing else like it.”
Drive along a 3.5-mile paved loop (enclosed vehicles only) through oak woodlands and bunch grasses like Indian grass, switch grass, little bluestem grass and eastern gamagrass that provide both protection and forage. Spot other residents also living at this address: wild turkeys, bobcats, butterflies, eastern kingsnakes, egrets, red-tailed hawks, box turtles, bats, songbird species and more.
Read the soundboards for a deeper dive into prairie life. Meet up with a volunteer who might be showing antlers or bison horns. Throughout the prairie, seek out the wallows and the rubs—those stumps, rocks and trees the elk and bison use to help shed. Keep an eye out for the bison calves who may be hidden away in the woods.
“The experience here is both mind-blowing and humbling,” says Cleaver.
Newport Aquarium, Newport
Something new is always happening at this million-gallon water world located at Newport on the Levee. This year it is Hatchling Harbor, an immersive 25-foot-long Caribbean seagrass habitat that opened in the spring to bring an entirely new ecosystem and hundreds of colorful animals—many of them babies—to Newport Aquarium.
Watch a school of young parrotfish crunch on corals while simultaneously making sand—they’re called “beach builders” for a reason. See crabs scuttling about and catch the uniquely patterned scrawled filefish changing colors to match their background. And watch it all from a fish’s view, behind glass below a barnacle-encrusted pier.
Walk through the completely redone Coral Reef Tunnel for 360-degree views of a thriving coral reef, alive with color and activity and over 50 species, including pufferfish, angelfish and the horned bluespine unicornfish. Amble along the rainforest floor and through a 32-foot-long tunnel while surrounded by freshwater fish.
There’s much more: Touch stingrays and sea urchins. Catch penguins cavorting and splashing about their frozen home. Create a digital seahorse. Careen down the slide at the Splash & Bubbles Play Climber and romp among the different levels of the Frog Bog’s climbing structure. Chill with the moon jellyfish as they drift and bob among the volcanoes of the Ring of Fire exhibit.
Wild times at these Kentucky animal attractions
Kentucky has no shortage of animal experiences, encounters and adventures.
Ararat Ridge Zoo at Ark Encounter (Owen Electric Cooperative)
1 Ark Encounter Drive, Williamstown
Ark Encounter admission includes the zoo, Children’s Zoo, kangaroo walkabout and animal shows; extra charge for camel rides and camel encounters.
Admission: $59.95, ages 18-59; $49.95, 60+; $29.95, ages 11-17; free, children 10 and under.
Big Bone Lick State Historic Site (Owen Electric Cooperative)
3380 Beaver Road, Union
See the bison herd year-round at the Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology.
Admission: Free (including the museum and visitor center.)
Dutch Country Safari Park (Farmers RECC)
2125 L and N Turnpike Road, Horse Cave
Take a safari excursion to feed camels and other wildlife and meet new resident Tino, a 5-year-old capuchin monkey—the park’s first monkey. Train rides and petting zoo add to the fun.
Admission: $17.99, general; $10.99, ages 4-12. $2 discounts for military and 55+.
Jenny Wiley State Resort Park (Big Sandy RECC)
75 Theatre Court, Prestonsburg
Jenny Wiley has brought back its popular Elk Viewing Tours, September through March. The guided tours are off-site at nearby viewing locations and include discussion of the history of the elk restoration in Kentucky.
Park admission is free; check website for specific dates and cost for elk tours.
3700 L and N Turnpike Road, Horse Cave
Animal shows, petting zoo, gem mining, guided tours of Mammoth Onyx Cave and now more joeys than ever before. “Eight joeys,” says parks spokesman Brian Dale. “That means just about any time a guest visits, they are almost guaranteed to see a little joey in the mom’s pouch or one that has just left the pouch.”
Admission: $25.95, general; $19.95, 62+, military and first responders; $15.95, 4-14.
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (Pennyrile Electric)
238 Visitor Center Drive, Golden Pond
Elk & Bison Prairie admission: $5 car. See website for other activities, including the Golden Pond Planetarium, and hours and rates.
1100 Trevilian Way, Louisville
New to the zoo: Lemur exhibit and new lemur residents; Zemora, a 5-year-old pygmy hippo, added to the Gorilla Forest; Jingga, an 11-year-old Sumatra tiger to the Islands; and a zebra named Daisy and two lynx kittens, named Willow and Ash, all born in May 2022.
Admission (through Oct. 31): $16.50–$26.50, ages 12-59; $11.50–$21.50, ages 60+ and ages 3-11.
One Aquarium Way, Newport
Thousands of the world’s most exotic aquatic creatures, a sunken ship, touch pools, Shark Ray Bay Theater, Jim Henson’s Splash & Bubbles Reeftown Adventure, a Seahorse Scavenger Hunt and more at this award-winning aquarium.
Admission (tickets must be purchased in advance): $22.99–$39.99, ages 13+; $14.99–$31.99, ages 2-12.
Salato Wildlife Education Center
1 Sportsman’s Lane, Frankfort
Indoors, see the Living Bee Tree, Snakes of Kentucky exhibit, warm water aquarium, alligator snapping turtle and more. Outdoor exhibits include bald eagles, bison, black bear, elk, deer, turkey, bobcats and a monarch waystation. Plus 4 miles of hiking trails, two fishing lakes and picnic shelters.
Admission: $5, ages 18+; $3, 5-17; free for kids 4 and under. Under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Wendt’s Wildlife Adventure (Blue Grass Energy)
3740 Maysville Road, Carlisle
Wendt’s is adding to the park this year; see updates at Facebook: Wendt’s Wildlife Adventure. Overnight accommodations are available at the two-bedroom Hilltop Retreat, an onsite vacation rental guesthouse. Details on website.
Admission: $11.99, ages 16-64; $10.99, 65+ and military, first responders; $9.99, 3-15.