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Origin Story

Jim Fouts

It all started for Jim as a boy when his grandfather gave him a San Diego Zoo guide book. Jim became fascinated with animals and would ultimately get his start in the animal world as a keeper in the 1970’s (1972) at the Sedgwick County Zoo. He was hired as a night keeper at the farms overseeing chickens, goats, and cows.

Shortly after Jim had started at the zoo, Jim dreamed of having his own collection of animals. He settled on rare doves and pheasants because they were beautiful and frankly easier to get than rhinos or okapis. Working at SCZ was helping him gain animal experience, but he would need to expand his network if he was going to find birds. So he began to attend Association of Zoos & Aquariums conferences and bird association conferences where he met new people.

After 5 ½ years of working at the zoo and expanding his network of professional zoo contacts, Jim chose to devote his time to breeding birds. Shortly after leaving, a colleague had mentioned an import company that needed someone with animal experience to care for animals that were being shipped from Bolivia. So Jim traveled to Bolivia where he lived for 2 years caring for animals that were in quarantine and being prepared to ship. During that time he learned the import process and established new sources for rare birds. 

Having conquered South America at 28 years old, Jim set his sights on Africa. After a few successful trips to Africa, Jim and his wife, Sherri, purchased USDA Quarantine Facility in California. Their initial success in Africa led to more orders from major zoos across the country. So they started importing birds from all over the world. 

In just 10 years, Jim had become one of the country’s leading importers for rare birds. He was the “go to” person for most of the top zoos in the country. But he had bigger dreams. He really wanted to build a world-class breeding facility in the United States.

In 1985, they bought 5 acres in Goddard and built their first barn and the home of Tanganyika was established. By 1987, they built a second building for tigers. Jim acquired a pure white female named, Shubra, and a male named, Benny, who was the last live mascot for the Cincinnati Bengals football team. Two years later, Benny and Shubra had their first pair of kittens and Tanganyika established itself as a breeding facility which to this day is extremely important in the zoo world.Sherri Fouts

In 2000, they started doing guided tours through their backyard. The first version of the guided tour would take about an hour and guests would see seven species of animals. We offered giraffe feeding and lemur feeding through the fence, and that is when we realized how much we could strengthen the connection between people and the natural world through interactive experiences.

By 2004, over 4,000 people were visiting with very few amenities and no parking lot. At that time, Jim and Sherri, along with the son, Matt, decided to expand. However, they knew it would have to be successful it would have to be a world-class facility. They took a portion of the 51 acres and constructed a zoo from the ground up. Some of you may have seen the movie We Bought A Zoo with Matt Damon, well they BUILT a zoo from the ground up!

On August 2nd, 2008 Tanganyika Wildlife Park officially opened with 15 exhibits and 3 interactive areas. Over the past 8 years, we have grown into the 3rd largest animal collection in Kansas, and one of the largest attractions in the state. We have over 40 exhibits featuring 9 interactive stations, 400 animals and 37 successful breeding programs. This year we are adding the new penguin grotto, albino alligator exhibit, and the Asian small-clawed otter.

Our family-owned facility right here in Goddard, KS continues to be a world leader in breeding rare and endangered species. So far in 2016, we have had 21 cats, 2 giraffe, 17 primates, 4 kangaroos, 2 penguins, 18 goats… no 19 goats… no 20 goats…, and over 20 other babies.

The Fouts family has built one of the largest, family-owned zoos in the country from nothing. They didn’t receive any government funds or grants to build it. They did with hard work, dedication and passion to be stewards for animals in their care and in the wild. And they did it with the support of visitors like you.

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