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The History Of Lake Tobias Wildlife Park Animal Safari in Halifax, PA

Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is home to the most fascinating animal safari in Pennsylvania, and the site comes with a long and captivating history. Since its inception in 1965, the park has grown from one man’s dream to an attraction beloved by people of all ages and walks of life. Here, in the beautiful countryside, anyone who wants to commune with nature can witness firsthand the beauty and mystique of some of the most breathtaking creatures on the planet.

From Childhood Home To Animal Habitat

J.R. Tobias was born and raised on the property that’s now Lake Tobias Wildlife Park. His love of animals surfaced at a young age, and he once planned to go to college to study animals and agriculture, but in 1943, he followed a different calling and joined the Marines. Though Mr. Tobias once referred to his concept of a safari park as “just a hobby to fall back on in my retirement,” a whisper of an idea turned into something that would last beyond his lifetime.

At the time, a safari park that let herding inhabitants roam free was unheard of. The concept of safari cruisers — upgraded school buses — as tour vehicles was yet another innovation. Mr. Tobias borrowed equipment from his own excavating and grading business to create stream-fed lakes and shape the fertile plot of land into a habitat fit for a wide variety of exotic creatures. All the while, J.R. supported his family and the construction through a variety of ventures, including a dairy, a John Deere farm machinery business, and a cement block manufacturing company.

Battling The Odds

Though the park has seen many good years and brought countless smiles to visitors young and old, there have also been difficult moments. A tornado tore through Lake Tobias in 1989, destroying several structures but leaving the animals miraculously unharmed. Three years later, a newly acquired animal tested positive for bovine TB; though the situation never presented any danger to the public, poor local reporting resulted in widespread rumors and hysteria. As a result of the panic and USDA regulations, all of the park’s mammals had to be euthanized, including an African lioness particularly near and dear to Mr. Tobias’s heart.

Lake Tobias Wildlife Park Today

The 2014 season marked the park’s 50th year in operation, a massive milestone that came in the midst of more than a decade of improvements and expansions, including:

  • A custom-designed, expanded habitats for the black bears and tigers
  • An African lion and baboon facility designed by Ern Tobias, which received a Mid-Atlantic BX Craftsmanship Award
  • A custom-designed reptile and exotics facility (a visitor favorite)
  • A heavily anticipated giraffe exhibit followed by an attached viewing and feeding deck
  • Extensively updated foodservice outlets
  • A relocated and expanded Safari Station
  • The opening of the J.R. Tobias Museum and Education Center later named the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Business Bureau’s Attraction of the Year

Though Mr. Tobias passed in 1996, his wife still lives in the park’s farmhouse, which doubles as the safari’s business office. His children, many of whom were already involved in the management of the park, took over from their father, and today there are grandchildren helping to keep J.R.’s vision of a family-owned, self-sustaining safari park alive and well.

Visit The Park

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The late J. R. Tobias, founder of Lake Tobias Wildlife Park

Lake Tobias draws an impressive 240,000 visitors every season and receives no state or federal funding. Instead, the revenue generated by guests provides the sole financial support for the park and its animals. Every time you venture to Lake Tobias to encounter exotic creatures like zebras or capybaras, you’re not only treating yourself to an unforgettable experience, but you’re also contributing to the upkeep and well-being of the entire park family — feathered, furry, and otherwise. To see the magic for yourself, learn more about our park and plan your visit today.

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