Camp Cowabunga

Camp Cowabunga is an African safari in the heart of America. Wildlife is the center of the experience, of course; however, unlike any other zoo exhibit, Camp Cowabunga is also about the visitor’s experience of Africa, going on safari, and being a guest in one of the world’s most dramatic places.

Director Emeritus Gary Clarke led 140 safaris after his retirement from the Topeka Zoo. The exhibit is based on his experiences and his passion for the African continent. Many of the stories and the unique perspective come from Gary’s insights and those of his guests and the many African guides who became his friends along the way.


Topeka Zoo


Topeka, KS


Audio | Video

Cultural History

Donor Recognition


Interactive Media


Science | Natural History | Technology


Youth Engagement

Zoo | Aquarium


GLMVZoos: Architect

Acme Scenic: Fabrication and Installation

At this “experience-based” exhibit, visitors engage with the sights, sounds, and feel of safari life. They ride in a game drive vehicle, half in and half out of a monkey habitat. Guests cool off in a bush bucket mist-shower, ride in a hot air balloon, sit in a bush “loo” to learn scat facts, listen to the calls of lions, and try to match a lion’s volume with their own calls. They learn what’s needed on safari and gain an appreciation of Africa as a real place, not a news headline or movie scene. Dozens of interactives, including video interviews with safari guides, give visitors an understanding of conservation issues, how guides and trackers do their work, and how to be a good safari guest.

“You guys are AWESOME! Thanks for all you did to make Camp Cowabunga truly exceptional – it is absolutely incredible!”

Gary Clarke, Emeritus Director

The exhibit includes images and objects from Gary’s collections, which have been significantly supplemented with materials acquired by Studio Tectonic in collaboration with the Topeka Zoo. Thematic signage was commissioned by African sign shops that provide hand carved signage for real safaris. Bush equipment fills the interior viewing tents. Hundreds of objects from years of safari fill “Gary’s Gallery”—a personal way for him to share his many journeys with guests.