It all started for Jim Fouts as a boy when his grandfather gave him a San Diego Zoo guide book. Jim became fascinated with animals at a young age and would ultimately get his start in the animal world as a keeper in1972 at the Sedgwick County Zoo (SCZ). He was hired as a night keeper at the farms overseeing chickens, goats, and cows.
Shortly after Jim had started at the SCZ, Jim dreamed of having his own collection of animals. He settled on rare doves and pheasants because they were beautiful and frankly easier to aquire 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 the birds he desired. So, he began to attend Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) conferences and bird association conferences where he met many 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. Jim traveled to Bolivia where he lived for two 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. As a result, 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 still had bigger dreams. He wanted to build a world-class breeding facility in the United States.
In 1985, they bought five acres in Goddard, 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.
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. They offered giraffe feeding and lemur feeding through the fence, and that is when they realized just how much they could strengthen the connection between people and the natural world through interactive experiences.
By 2004, over 4,000 people were visiting the park despite having very few amenities and no parking lot. At that time, Jim and Sherri, along with their son, Matt, decided to expand. However, they knew for it 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 2 of 2008 Tanganyika Wildlife Park officially opened with 15 exhibits and three interactive areas. Over the past eight years, we have grown into the third largest animal collection in Kansas, and one of the largest attractions in the state. We have over 40 exhibits featuring 10 interactive stations, over 400 animals and 37 successful breeding programs.
Our family-owned facility right here in Goddard, KS continues to be a world leader in breeding rare and endangered species.
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 it with hard work, dedication and passion to be stewards for animals in their care and in the wild. They did it with the support of visitors like you.