A drive-through safari. Exotic animals including some on the brink of extinction. A petting zoo. A museum-quality collection of mounted animals ranging from cuddly forest critters to giants of the African savanna. Playgrounds. Indoor and outdoor waterfalls. Amazing photo opportunities. Action Wildlife in Goshen, CT, will blow away your expectations.
This 116-acre zoo and museum (here's a map of the property) affords opportunities to observe animal behavior and to marvel at the diversity of life on our planet. And, at $10 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under (as of 2018), Action Wildlife is one of Connecticut's best family entertainment bargains.
Admission fees cover only 25 percent of the non-profit Action Wildlife Foundation's operating costs: The facility is obviously founder Jim Mazzarelli's passion. You'll love sharing an animal adventure with your kids in an uncrowded setting. Visit Action Wildlife spring through fall.
Museum and Exploration Center
In 2008, a Museum and Exploration Center was added at Action Wildlife in Goshen, CT. Inside this enormous warehouse, located just inside the admission gate, visitors first encounter an assortment of live birds and reptiles, like this turtle.
We weren't surprised to spy a fish tank when we reached the first floor of the museum at Action Wildlife, but we certainly weren't expecting to come face-to-face with an incredibly lifelike, long-horned Watusi cow: a preview of the displays that awaited.
The stuffed turkey at Action Wildlife is not the kind you'd serve on Thanksgiving day. It is one of a menagerie of brilliantly executed taxidermy animals in the museum's vast and diverse collection.
From a Raccoon...
How diverse is the array of animals brought to life by taxidermist Mike Maston? The amazingly alert-looking animals on display range from this everyday North American masked bandit, the raccoon...
...to a White Rhino
...to a White Rhino, an enormous creature from the grasslands of Africa. Action Wildlife founder Jim Mazzarelli hunted all but a handful of the animals on display in the museum. A White Rhino hunting license was $20,000, we were told, with no guarantees.
Video footage of scenes observed in the wild aided in the creation of realistic dioramas, such as this battle between two American bison, inside the museum at Action Wildlife.
Please Don't Pet the Bears
Action Wildlife's displays reminded me of those at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, only here in Connecticut, glass does not separate visitors from the animals, and even on a holiday weekend, there isn't a crowd. Still, touching is not allowed.
A Photographer's Dream
Because the taxidermy animals are not hidden behind glass, Action Wildlife is a photographer's dream, even when the subject is a not terribly photogenic creature like the warthog! As you'll see, I was able to capture neat live animal shots outdoors, too.
Reach Out and Touch That Snout
No, you can't touch the water buffalo's nose. But doesn't it look as though it would be warm and moist if you did? The taxidermy work at Action Wildlife is a marvel. Pelts, preserved in the field, are mounted on mannequins. Even the glass eyes look real.
Some of the dioramas, such as this scene of lions attacking a water buffalo, are admittedly a tad gruesome. But my 7-year-old, who'd seen something similar on Animal Planet, was unfazed. There are ample options for diverting younger children's gaze.
In the museum's last room, my daughter had the chance to touch an assortment of fur pelts—moose, bear, raccoon—and elephant skin, too, at an interactive station. By now, we were eager to hop in our car and continue our Action Wildlife animal safari.
White-spotted, graceful Fallow Deer are common in England, but they're not often seen in New England. Action Wildlife has successfully bred Fallow Deer, and a small herd can be observed as visitors begin their drive around this animal park in Goshen, CT.
The Scimitar Oryx only sounds like an animal invented by Dr. Seuss! Native to North Africa, the Scimitar Oryx is extinct in the wild, so the opportunity to see this curvy-horned antelope at Action Wildlife in Goshen, Connecticut, is a rare one, indeed.
The taxidermy water buffalo we saw inside the museum gave us a sense of this hulking creature's size. Viewing this live water buffalo on the grounds of Action Wildlife gave us a sense of this big bovine's sloppy eating habits!
Around the corner from the Watusi Cattle, the 50-acre drive-through wildlife safari is one of Action Wildlife's most unique attractions. As we circumnavigated this enclosed area, we kept our eyes peeled for llamas, emu and Japanese Sika Deer.
Hop Out and See the Animals Up Close
That's a face only a Mama Llama could love! When we entered Action Wildlife, we learned that one of the beauties of this zoo is that visitors can hop in and out of their cars safely at any point for a close-up view of both exotic and domestic animals.
The shaggy Poitou Donkey, an ancient breed that originated in France's Poitou region, is an incredibly rare animal. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists the breed's status as "critical": Only 450 pure Poitous were known to exist as of 2005.
Head Into the Petting Zoo
The endangered and exotic animals at Action Wildlife are fascinating to observe, but who can resist baby farm animals? Not my family.
It's easy to make friends with the petting zoo sheep... if you have a bottle in your hand! When we visited, bottles of milk were $3 and small cups of grain $1. Be forewarned: The attendant likely won't have change. It's a bit of a ploy, I think.
Fun and Educational
For my little girl, feeding the baby sheep, kids and piglets was a highlight of our visit to Action Wildlife in Goshen, Connecticut. The animal park is a fun place to take kids of all ages, and school groups are welcome to plan educational outings, too.
A Scene from Disney
Deer aren't typically found in petting zoos, and the chance to feed this young fawn from our hands was like a scene from an animated Disney movie... only without singing birds flying around our heads.
A Playground for Little Tots
At Action Wildlife, there's a picnic area and playground for little kids under 6 near the petting zoo. Pack a picnic lunch, and you can easily make a day out of your visit to this wild animal park and safari in Northwest Connecticut.
A Work of Art
I've seen zebras in zoos before, but I only realized what a work of art the zebra is as I viewed the sole member of the species on view at Action Wildlife. For the first time, I noticed that the stripes on a zebra's mane align perfectly with its coat.
Don't Fence Me In
The Action Wildlife animals are penned in, but they all have plenty of space to roam inside their landscaped habitats. This horse wasn't going anywhere, but we did see a goat wander out into the road. We laughed when a staffer said, "That's Houdini."
Where the Buffalo Roam
The animals on display at Action Wildlife really do run the gamut from A to Z: American Bison to Zebu. The herd of bison (or buffalo) that call the wildlife park home can be seen from Route 4.
Larger Than Life
The American Bison is North America's largest living land animal, and, with my 80-200mm lens, I was able to gaze into the eyes of one of these majestic beasts. Action Wildlife's signage is sparse, but you can research animal facts online after your visit.
A Vigilant Elk
This American Elk kept careful watch on us as we observed her and even made a charge toward the fence at one point, causing me to reflexively grab my daughter's shoulder and pull her back from the elk enclosure.
A Mother's Instinct
I quickly realized that the elk's protective behavior mirrored my own. Mama elk was simply, instinctively ensuring the safety of her babies. I had never seen a baby elk. There's only one word to describe this bright-eyed calf: adorable.
A male elk, who I assume is the proud papa of this brood, looked on languidly while his offspring frolicked. American Elk shed their antlers annually. When you see how impressive a male elk's antlers can be, that's almost impossible to believe.
The Male of the Species
It's a natural instinct for elk and human moms to keep a sharp watch while their little ones play. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about whether the males of both species also share instinctive tendencies.
We had to pull our 7-year-old daughter away from her new "friends," the Pygmy Goats, when we first visited their pen, so before we left Action Wildlife in Goshen, Connecticut, we drove back around and gave her a chance to say, "goodbye."
A Playground for Bigger Kids
Action Wildlife has a playground for bigger kids, too, back near the museum and gift shop, where shaded picnic tables are also available. With swings, slides, ride-on animals, a climbing wall and more, kids could easily spend an hour or more playing here.
Ride the Orange Snail
We thought gazing up at a rhino, touching elephant skin, beholding an Oryx, embarking on a safari, making friends with goats, bottle-feeding piglets, admiring a zebra and dodging a wary elk was enough for our girl. No. She had to ride the orange snail.