Wonders of Wildlife wowed me with its fish, mammals, and birds—all entertainingly displayed, either alive or stuffed. As important as the many hunting and fishing stories is the conservation history and ethos conveyed throughout the campus. Founder Johnny Morris best summarizes the spirit of Wonders of Wildlife when he says, “Thanks for sharing the journey in conservation. Happy huntin’ and fishin’!”
Wonders of Wildlife comprises two sections: the 1.5-million-gallon Aquarium Adventure and the Wildlife Museum, a day-long exploration that a brochure informs us was “Voted American’s Best Aquarium and Best New Attraction by USA Today readers.”
Children ogle at live fish, frogs, sharks, turtles, alligators, beavers, birds, penguins; adults also learn about fishermen, hunters, Native Americans, and conservationists. Adjacent to the aquarium and the museum is the first-in-the-nation Bass Pro Shop. All of them were founded by Johnny Morris, noted fisherman and conservationist. The complex will soon add a “Nature’s Best Photography” section.
I’m a conservationist who hunted and fished lots with my family in Colorado during my childhood and teenage years, though U.S. Navy work and conservation advocacy have occupied my older years. One of my brothers remains the big hunter in our family.
(Sidenote: one evening, as I was reversing the family’s Volkswagen Rabbit out of our driveway to pick up my prom date, I smelled something, so I stopped the car, opened the back hatch and discovered a dead deer there—my hunter brother having been the most recent user of the car.)
During one of our walk and talks, my brother reminded me that much of America’s conservation of wildlife and habitat has been done, and is funded by, hunters and fishermen through hunting tags, fishing licenses and through organizations like Ducks Unlimited. The Wonders of Wildlife experience in Springfield, Missouri tells that story—the importance of conservation in America (such as creation of wildlife refuges, national forests and parks, and legislation such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act) and the roles that hunters and fishermen—men and women who frequent nature—have played in the conservation of America’s wild species.
Conservation-related quotes are posted throughout the museum:
“There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”
⸺ Theodore Roosevelt
“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children.”
⸺ John James Audubon
“In the end . . . we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.”
⸺ Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist
“Conservation is wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of man.”
⸺ Gifford Pinchot
“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife, are in fact plans to protect man.”
⸺ Stewart Udall
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
⸺ Albert Einstein
“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying our air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
⸺ Franklin D. Roosevelt
“We must leave them a glimpse of the land as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
⸺ Lyndon B. Johnson
“The parks are the Nation’s pleasure grounds . . . and the Nation’s restoring places . . . The national parks are an American idea; it is one thing we have that has not been imported.”
⸺ Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The idea of preserving in a national grouping such spots of scenic beauty and historic memory originated here in this country . . . In Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, other countries have followed our pioneering example and set aside their most magnificent scenic areas as national treasures for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”
⸺ Lyndon B. Johnson
One poster states, “Only across the great lands and waterways of North America does the mission of conservation belong to the people, to the sportsmen and women who both enjoy and protect the great outdoors. Here, we believe that our fish and wildlife belong to all. And so we take it uniquely upon ourselves as conservationists to proudly and diligently safeguard all this land for all generations to come. For sportsmen and women, conservation is more than just a word—it’s a way of life.
“Did you know there is a 10% excise tax on firearms, bows, ammunition, and sports fishing tackle? This excise tax, along with license fees and more, helps to generate more than $1.5 billion for wildlife research, management, and habitat improvement.
“Since 1937, they [sportsmen and women] have raised more than $57 billion for public conservation. 80% of that funding for fish and wildlife agencies comes from sportsmen and women. Hunters and anglers also donate more than $400 million every year through conservation and sporting organizations.”
The museum relates significant periods and people in American conservation. For example, I learned that the Boone and Crockett Club (founded by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell) launched a National Display of Heads and Horns in 1906 (later moved to the Bronx Zoo) which first brought to people’s eyes the wonders that were very close to being forever lost.
That display, which is now in the Wonders of Wildlife Museum, helped mobilize people to stop the extinction of big game animals in North America, such as buffalo, elk, pronghorn antelope, Rocky Mountain sheep, black bears, and other species.
“We can no longer rule over the beasts of the earth and seek ‘dominion’ over our environment. We human beings are not privileged beings who are above or separate from the world. We are part of the landscape and everything in it. With this awareness come humility and the gift of harmony.”
⸺ Black Elk
“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.”
⸺ Chief Seattle
While walking to heads and horns, I passed through a corridor of the mammals of North America, all in one place, refreshing for me in one place what I’d seen in parts in various national parks. “Ah, that’s a weasel, as compared to that critter there which is an otter.”
Big-game hunter Theodore Roosevelt became known as the conservation president because of the numerous laws and legislative actions he took to protect wildlife and natural resources. His pictures and quotes grace multiple walls in the museum.
Pictures of Lewis and Clark and clothes and artifacts of Native Americans fill another hallway.
The walls tell stories of, and quotes by, George Bird Grinnell (editor-in-chief of Forest & Stream magazine, co-founder of the Boone and Crockett Club, founder of what later became known as the Audubon Society), James John Audubon, John Muir (founder of the Sierra Club), Gifford Pinchot (first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service), Aldo Leopold (a renowned scientist and exceptional teacher who founded wildlife ecology; author of A Sand County Almanac), Charles Sheldon (campaigned for the creation of Denali National Park; he also recommended the present borders of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park), J.N Darling (political cartoonist who worked with Aldo Leopold to restore waterfowl habitat and who created the federal duck stamp to fund conservation efforts. Darling also served President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the head of what is the now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service).
The creatures that almost weren’t that are.
In truth, we depend on all the creatures in this world. For in order to survive, we humans must consume plants and animals—life must be taken so that we may live. It is only with this awareness that we learn humility and find balance. Our lives need to be in a circle, not in a square, nor a straight line.
⸺ Black Elk
“Whenever in the course of the daily hunt, the red hunter comes upon a scene that is strikingly beautiful and sublime—a black thunder-cloud with the rainbow’s glowing arch above the mountain; a white waterfall in the heart of a green gorge; a vast prairie tinged with the blood-red of sunset—he pauses for an instant in the attitude of worship. He sees no need for setting apart one day in seven as a holy day, since to him all days are God’s.”
⸺ Ohiyesa, Wahpeton, Dakota
Morris conveys his conservation philosophy throughout the campus, and he stresses that the appreciation of wild things comes from being outdoors. As my Dad used to say to my siblings and I about how best to raise our children: “You gotta take em’ fishing.” Morris clearly conveys his love of fishing in his dedication plaque to his mom and dad who “always made time to take me fishing” and in displays like the National Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame (Ernest Hemingway’s fishing prowess is displayed there), and the section on fishing presidents, with its pictures of George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Harry Truman, and Franklin D. Roosevelt (with Winston Churchill), Calvin Coolidge, and Theodore Roosevelt. Johnny Morris is in the pictures too, fishing with many of the modern-day presidents.
One ticket gets you into the aquarium and the wildlife galleries (for prices, please go to https://wondersofwildlife.org/), and of course strolling through the nation’s first Bass Pro store costs nothing–at least until you see something in that huge hunting and fishing store that you just have to buy.
A day at the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium & Museum and the Bass Pro Shop is a fish/animal/bird/history-filled experience for children, adults, hunters, fishermen, and conservationists.
Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium
500 W. Sunshine Street, Springfield, MO 68507
ph: 888-222-6060 https://wondersofwildlife.org/