Buffalo Park & Zoo in Tupelo, MS
Buffalo in Tupelo? That’s the question Dan Franklin’s family and friends might have asked him when the veteran cattleman returned home with six buffalo from Colorado and Canada.
Park & Zoo
But doubts were quickly put to rest as Franklin’s herd grew to nearly 100 and became the main attraction at the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo, a 217-acre menagerie of giraffes, monkeys, buffalo and everything in between.
The park, which occupies a former Chickasaw Indian village, offers schoolchildren and families part animal kingdom experience and part social studies lesson.
“We teach them about the buffalo and the longhorn and what role those animals played in the history of this country,” Franklin says. One hundred buffalo may seem like a sizable herd, but that number was at one time roughly a third of all living buffalo in the world," Franklin says.
While the animals were about 64 million strong before North America was colonized by the Europeans, within about 150 years of their arrival, that number fell to fewer than 300, which is why Franklin considers his work at the park so important.
There are currently 375,000 buffalo worldwide, but it’s uncommon to see large herds in captivity. The Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo’s herd is one of the largest east of the Mississippi River.
More Than Just Buffalo
The park also features zebras, yaks, bears, tigers, lions and all of a large zoo’s other usual suspects.
More than 140,000 people visit the park and zoo each year.
Franklin hopes to impart in the visitors the importance of environmental conservation as well as the love of animals.
“What I’m hoping they’ll take away from the park is to experience what the animals actually look like and to learn what we’ve done to our environment and the animals’ environment and how we’ve changed things, destroyed things by just not caring,” Franklin says. “But if we pay attention to what we’re doing, we can stop the way things are going and make them go back to the way they were.”
A trip to the park and zoo is a bit like stepping back into the Old West, without having to leave Tupelo’s backyard.
“Just the big eyes, or that little gasp that you hear when those huge bison come right up next to the trolley, and you just see the kids’ eyes just light up,” says Jesse Swinford, a park manager. “This is a chance to come and see the bison and get right next to them – we’re talking two feet away from a huge, 2,000-pound animal. That’s just awesome, you know?”
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