Building a Dream

By Hope Dimick
Photos by Aaron Patton

Jim and Sherri Fouts had a dream to build a world class breeding facility for rare and endangered species. That dream has become what we know today as Tanganikya Wildlife Park.

Beginning of Life

Tanganikya means the beginning of life, a word that Jim connected with while in South Africa. And even though it is hard to spell and thus hard to say, and even though they were told by many to change the name to something easier, Jim and Sherri felt it spoke to their identity and uniqueness.

In 2000, they started doing private tours where people could see seven species of animals and feed lemurs and giraffes through the fence. What surprised them was that these groups kept coming back to spend time with the animals. They realized that the interaction and intimacy with the animals created a hands-on approach that couldn’t be found anywhere else.

“It started growing and growing to where we were seeing four to five thousand people and we didn’t have bathrooms, we didn’t have sidewalks, we didn’t even have a parking lot. So, we were like, ‘let’s build a zoo from the ground up,’” said Matt Fouts, director of Tanganikya Wildlife Park.

On August 2, 2008, they opened with 15 exhibits and three animal encounters. Today, they have grown to over 50 exhibits and nine animal encounters with other additional animal experiences for visitors.

Connecting People and Animals

Matt took growing up with exotic animals for granted, but the opening of Tanganyika completely opened his eyes. The impact that the animals made on the people visiting gave him a new appreciation for the animals.

“We have a deep connection with nature and animals and seeing that play out is fascinating,” said Fouts. “I love that we can share that experience with others and see how animals can help change people’s lives.”

Matt’s personal passion is strengthening the connection between people and animals and creating an experience that people will talk about for years to come.

“Tanganikya is just different, and until you have really come out to the park and experienced it, it’s hard to understand,” said Fouts. “Our tagline has been ‘experience wildly different’ and I think we stay true to that.”

Creating Unique Opportunities

While Tanganiyka connects people and animals, it also offers a unique interactive experience for businesses to host events and rent out the park for their staff or their customers.

“Anytime [a business] does an event here they see 3-5% higher attendance than anywhere else,” said Lynnlee Schmidt, director of connections at Tanganikya. “You want to improve your culture and the morale, create memories with your employees, give them the opportunity

to connect, and build those relationships that it takes to keep them at your company, especially with the turnover everyone is facing now, an event at Tanganikya really does that.”

From small team building activities for companies to company picnics and customer events, the opportunities and options are Tanganiyka are endless. If a special event isn’t the right fit, there are many ways businesses can provide employees or customers access to the park.

“Companies can partner with Tanganiyka to get discounted rates for their employees or purchase packages for the Safari of Lights to gift to employees,” said Schmidt. “They are also able to sponsor exhibits to highlight their company or donate to the park.”

Planning for the Future

Tanganikya’s team is planning many updates to the park that include an event space able to host at least 500 people and renovations to the dining area and entrance.

There is currently a new building that will become a safari experience where people will be able to go glamping, ride in Hummers, and even possibly kayak. These plans will almost double the size of the current park and create even more memorable experiences for visitors.

“I’m not looking to build a local attraction, I’m looking to build a national attraction,” said Fouts.