Carmen Iben, Global Animal

The Six Flags amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey will shut down their exclusive Wild Safari after September 30. For years the historic site allowed visitors to take their own vehicles through a designated trail to visit a variety of exotic animals and more than 75 species including African lions, Asian water buffaloes, elephants and zebras. 

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“Six Flags Wild Safari has been an institution to many families whose first glimpse of exotic animals was with their faces pressed up against a car window. That chapter of our history is now drawing to a close,” Wild Safari director and chief veterinarian Bill Rives said in a news release. More than 10 million visitors have reportedly driven through Wild Safari since its gates first opened in 1974.

It is unclear whether the 350-acre wildlife preserve will remain closed in the long term. 

The New York Times reports that Kristin Siebeneicher, a spokeswoman for Six Flags Great Adventure, said the safari would eventually reopen. Details released on August 30 will address the issue along with significant changes, including whether park buses will resume guided tours for those who do not want to drive their own cars. 

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While visitors say that the area is more enjoyable than a zoo with larger spaces for the animals to roam, Wild Safari still presents real dangers for both people and animals. Allowing animals to walk on roads among unsupervised vehicles is not safe for either party, especially if animals become accustomed to food handouts from park visitors. 

Wild Safari Park President John Fitzgerald said that they will continue to care for the animals that live at the park, stating animal safety has always been their first priority. The site has, however, run into controversy in recent years when PETA slammed the park for failing to provide enough care for the animals. According to PETA’s website, 26 animals died at Six Flags Wild Safari from various injuries and infections during one three-month period, although no details are given as to when this occurred. “It’s about time for Six Flags to stop subjecting hundreds of wild animals to a constant stream of vehicles, exhaust and unsupervised visitors,” said Ashley Byrne, PETA’s manager of campaigns. The animal rights group said that the upcoming changes would not go far enough to protect many of the animals that had been taken from their natural habitats.