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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy Photo Each habitat at Wonders of Wildlife features painstaking attention to detail, including massive hand-painted murals, native foliage and special effects that deliver the dry sun of the African Savannah and more.

It's impossible for most people to afford to go "around the world in 80 days" -- except in the novel and film of that name. But travelers to a new museum in Springfield, Mo., can transcend both space and time to stand in the middle of a 21st century diorama and smell the wild, feel the wind and see four species of mountain sheep. They can visit the African Savannah and get close enough to almost touch lifelike elephants, giraffes, rhinos, crocodiles and zebras. They can plunge to the depths of the ocean and explore a sunken shipwreck, now home to reef dwellers like eels, groupers and lobsters. And they can stand in the middle of an ocean habitat teeming with zebra sharks, leopard rays and sea turtles.

And they can do it all not at a Disney park or Orlando attraction, but at Wonders of Wildlife, a nonprofit structure bigger than the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, opened last fall by Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, in his hometown.


Wonders of Wildlife

National Museum & Aquarium

WHEN — 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (some days will end at 5 p.m., depending on the season)

WHERE — 500 W. Sunshine St. in Springfield, Mo.

COST — $23.95-$39.95 for everything; $19.95-$29.95 for the aquarium; $9.95-$14.95 for the wildlife galleries

INFO — 888-222-6060 or email


WOW No. 1

Wonders of Wildlife was voted America’s Best New Attraction for 2017 in a poll released this month by USA Today.

"As fishing stories go, this is a pretty good one," the tale begins with a photo of Morris and his father, John, who inspired his passion for the outdoors and conservation. Morris grew up fishing on the White River with his family and started Bass Pro in 1971, selling tackle from a shelf in his father's Brown Derby liquor store in Springfield.

"In a world increasingly disconnected from the great outdoors, it's more important than ever for people of all ages to connect with nature through fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation," Shelby Stephenson, a spokeswoman for the museum, says in answer to a question. Morris' goal, she says, is to encourage others to "protect wildlife for generations to come. Wonders of Wildlife shares this passion with visitors."

Morris spent nearly 10 years and an undisclosed amount of money to build Wonders of Wildlife, which boasts a 1.5 million gallon aquarium -- with some 35,000 live fish, reptiles, mammals, amphibians and birds representing more than 800 species -- set in the midst of 350,000 square feet of immersive habitats from the Arctic to the Alps to Africa. Younger visitors can walk into the middle of the ocean and watch sharks swim around them, touch stingray at the Shipwreck Reef and pop up in viewing bubbles in the middle of neon tetras, piranhas and more. Older visitors might get excited about a "collection of boats fishing legends were made on," along with historical boats used by musicians Jimmy Buffet, literary legend Ernest Hemingway and western author Zane Grey.

More than a mile and a half of trails wander through the exhibits -- traversing tropical coasts, steamy rain forests, freshwater swamps and more -- and some 40 leading conservation organizations -- among them the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service, Audubon, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, Native American Fish and Wildlife Society and the U.S. Forest Service -- contributed to the finished product, located next door to the Bass Pro Shops National Headquarters on Sunshine Street. Stephenson calls Springfield "America's conservation capital" and says "Missouri's Ozark Mountains are emerging as the ultimate destination for everyone who loves the outdoors."

"The museum and aquarium pay homage to the sportsmen and women of yesterday, today and tomorrow with the knowledge that the surest way to preserve our rich outdoor heritage is to expose more people to its awe-inspiring beauty," Stephenson says.

Courtesy Photo The aquarium at Wonders of Wildlife includes more than 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds representing more than 800 species.
Courtesy Photo Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium opened Sept. 22 in Springfield, Mo.
Courtesy Photo Sheep mountain includes mounts of more than 40 rec0rd-setting sheep from around the world, the personal collection of avid adventurer Arthur Dubbs.
Courtesy Photo Visitors to Wonders of Wildlife can pop up in the middle of a school of piranha.
Courtesy Photo Immersive habitats bring visitors face to face with lifelike animals, like these musk ox captured under the Northern Lights.

NAN What's Up on 01/14/2018

Print Headline: Wonders Upon Wonders

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