A long-standing landmark in central New Jersey is about to close. Six Flags Wild Safari will stop allowing patrons to drive through the 350-acre park on Sept. 30, the company announced this week.

 

Wild Safari and neighboring Six Flags Great Adventure opened in Jackson, N.J., in 1974. The site is home to 1,200 exotic animals from six continents representing more than 75 species, including giraffes, lions, baboons, addax, elephants, white rhinos and two kinds of tigers. Visitors can ride park buses or their own cars through the park's 4.5-mile auto trail, where some of the animals will approach them. When I lived in the area in the early 1990s, drivers often found themselves carrying extra passengers for a few hundred feet as baboons hopped onto cars and trucks for a short ride.

 

"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.

 

Bison at Six Flags Wild Safari, with a Great Adventure rollercoaster in the background.

 

Six Flags declined to comment on what would become of Wild Safari after this year, but spokesperson Kristen Siebeneicher told Newark's Star-Ledger that the company will announce what she characterized as "monumental" changes on Aug. 30. The two parks will release the details of their 2013 season on the same date.

 

In the press release, Six Flags Great Adventure President John Fitzgerald said the park will continue to provide veterinary and husbandry care for the resident animals. "Animal preservation and education has been a cornerstone of Six Flags Great Adventure since we opened our gates in 1974," he said.

 

The animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has levied criticisms against Wild Safari and similar parks. According to the group's website, "In one three-month period, 26 animals died at Six Flags Wild Safari." (PETA does not identify when this occurred or the source of their information.) "The causes of death ranged from neck and skull fractures to hypothermia, tetanus, pneumonia, and drowning." PETA also accuses Six Flags Wild Safari of selling animals to biomedical research labs and hunting ranches.

 

Six Flags Wild Safari is often billed as the world's largest drive-through safari outside of Africa. Other private safaris are larger in total acreage, but Wild Safari's auto trail is reportedly the longest. Siebeneicher told the Star-Ledger that more than 10 million visitors have driven through Wild Safari since its gates first opened.

 

Related wild animal story on MNN: Invasive exotic animals costing U.S. billions of dollars

 

MNN tease photo: Marcio Cabral de Moura/Flickr