Wonders of Wildlife Museum: Wildlife Wonderland in Springfield, MO

The Inception: A Vision Comes to Life

In the heart of Springfield, Missouri, a vision was born. The Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, a not-for-profit educational conservation-themed attraction, was the brainchild of Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops.

Morris, a passionate advocate for nature and wildlife, saw the need for a place where people could learn about and appreciate the world’s diverse ecosystems.

Morris’s vision was not without its challenges. The museum’s initial creation resulted from an intensive lobbying campaign and significant financial support from Morris himself.

He campaigned for a ballot initiative, which provided funding for part of the $52 million expense required to construct the original museum. This initiative also led to establishment of a museum district responsible for supervising the museum’s planning, design, and building.

However, the use of public funds for the project sparked a backlash. Responding to the general sentiment, Morris returned the local public money received and used private funds and donations to complete the project.

The Original Wonders of Wildlife: A Beacon of Conservation

The original Wonders of Wildlife museum was a testament to the beauty and diversity of nature. The 92,000-square-foot facility, designed by Cambridge Seven Associates, opened on November 1, 2001.

It was a treasure trove of nature’s wonders, housing 225 species of live animals, fresh and saltwater aquariums, interactive displays, and educational programs.

However, in December 2007, the original attraction closed its doors. But this was not the end. Instead, it began an ambitious expansion plan to increase the facility’s square footage by 58 percent, at $25 million.

The goal was to create a much larger attraction offering visitors an even more immersive and educational experience.

The Expansion and Reopening: A New Era Begins

The expansion of the Wonders of Wildlife Museum was a monumental task. The plans were ambitious, aiming to transform the museum into a much larger attraction at a cost of about $80 million. The original facility was incorporated into the new design, with some changes and updates to enhance the visitor experience.

Wonders of Wildlife Museum
Wonders of Wildlife Museum Robert Lawton, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

On September 22, 2017, the facility reopened to the public under its current name and configuration.

The opening event was grand, attended by prominent North American conservation leaders and numerous celebrities. The expanded museum was a testament to the dedication and hard work of all those involved in the project.

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The Wildlife Museum: A Window into the Wild

The Wildlife Museum is a journey into the heart of the wild. It presents a series of immersive wildlife galleries containing taxidermied animals worldwide.

These animals are displayed in elaborate and detailed dioramas representing a variety of natural habitats, offering visitors a glimpse into the diverse ecosystems of our planet.

In addition to the wildlife displays, the museum houses historical artifacts, artwork, films, and special exhibits. One of the highlights is the Boone and Crockett Club’s North American Heads and Horns Collection of big game mounts.

These exhibits not only educate visitors about wildlife but also celebrate the beauty and diversity of nature.

The Aquarium: A Dive into the Deep

The 1.5 million-gallon Aquarium is a world of its own. It showcases 35,000 individual fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, offering visitors a chance to explore the rich diversity of aquatic life. The aquarium is divided into themed areas, each representing a different marine habitat.

Visitors can explore an ocean shipwreck, navigate a Louisiana swamp, wander through an Ozark forest, or journey into the Amazon rainforest.

Each area is meticulously designed to replicate the natural habitat of living creatures, offering visitors an immersive and educational experience.

Recognition and Impact: A Beacon of Conservation

The Wonders of Wildlife museum has not gone unnoticed. In 2017, readers of USA Today voted it the “Best New Attraction” in the United States.

The museum has partnered with more than 40 conservation groups, including the National Audubon Society, National Geographic Society, National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, and National Wild Turkey Federation.

These recognitions and partnerships underscore the museum’s commitment to conservation education. They also highlight the museum’s part in promoting the role of hunters and anglers as America’s true conservation heroes, a sentiment echoed by Johnny Morris himself.

Recent Developments and Achievements: Continuing the Legacy

The Wonders of Wildlife Museum continues to make strides in conservation education. For the fourth year, it has been nominated for the honor of “America’s Best Aquarium” by USA Today.

The museum has also been actively involved in conservation research, including serving as the Midwest’s only sea turtle rescue facility and partnering with other facilities to create the first elasmobranch reintroduction program using zebra sharks as a model.

The museum’s educational initiatives have also expanded to include free interactive digital programs like Mission Conservation. This free educational app allows kids to learn about nature from their homes and backyards, fostering the next generation of conservationists.

Conclusion: A Journey Worth Taking

The Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri, is more than just a museum or an aquarium. It is a testament to nature’s beauty and diversity, a conservation celebration, and a beacon of education. It is a place where visitors can connect with nature, learn about wildlife, and be inspired to protect our planet for future generations.

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