Monday, January 5
Just about everyone has heard of the San Diego Zoo, it’s one of the largest and most famous in the country. Less talked about is the Safari Park, a separate part of the zoo located about a half-hour away featuring larger and less animal dense exhibits.
Julie and I arrive right at 9 am for open, the place is virtually empty. The winter holidays are finally over, kids are back in school and their parents have gone back to work. I like visiting attractions when they’re less crowded like this.
It’s not a cheap place to visit. A one day pass is $48 per adult, more than I’d normally be comfortable spending, but we’ve gotten free guest passes from friends. For the low, low price of nothing, it’s a heck of a deal.
I can see why they charge the price that they do. The sprawling park sits on 1,800 well manicured and cared for acres, exhibits are large and diverse, and it’s just, well, really impressive.
We make a beeline for the lions with the advice from our friends that the cubs are only out for the first part of the day.
They do not disappoint. The four lion cubs are old enough that they’re highly mobile and playful, bounding over one another and wrestling over branches in their enclosure. They’re hard to get a good photo of because they just won’t sit still, but I try my best.
The tram is next up on the to-do list. With our free guest passes, we have to pay $10 to get on, but it’s the best way to view the largest enclosure, which is over 300 acres and houses 151 animals – many of them ungulates of the African plains. It’s wonderful to be able to see these animals in motion, galloping across the grassy hills.
Sometimes, zoos get me down because I worry about the conditions the animals are kept in, or that the zoo is only caring about making money, but the Safari Park has a pretty good outreach program dedicated to education and conservation.
They have a lot of successful breeding programs to their name, California Condors, Cheetahs, and Bighorn Sheep among them, but along the tram route in a smaller enclosure at the medical facility is a solitary member of the most endangered large animal species in existence, the Northern White Rhino. Only five of these rhinos exist in the world, all in captivity, and breeding programs and artificial insemination have all proven fruitless. Our tour guide doesn’t go into details, but I discover after the fact that the Safari Park actually had a second Northern White Rhino, but he passed away last month at the ripe old age of 44 (life expectancy in the wild is 40 years). The female they have left is 41 and not in the best of health.
It’s a saddening thought, but at least I can take heart in the fact that this particular zoo seems dedicated to helping preserve other animals for future generations.
But on a lighter note, there are a lot of other neat things to see when you go here. The park has what they call “animal encounters” throughout the day, events where you can get a closer look at some of their residents.
The lemur enclosure is “open” all day. After a rundown on safety and sanitary rules by a handler, guests can follow a walkway through the lemur habitat to get a closure look uninhibited by bars. Lemurs are fun animals to watch, they’re very social and animated, and I love those long stripped fluffy tails.
The encounter I enjoyed most though was watching a cheetah run. At 3:30 pm daily on a long grassy outdoor track under closely monitored conditions, visitors can watch one of the park’s cheetahs chase a lure in a high speed sprint. The cheetah who ran it today completed the track in 5.4 seconds, so you better not blink or you’ll miss it.
We spent the full eight hours the park was open looking at stuff, and still didn’t get to see it all. The gorillas had a new arrival who was adorable to watch, the fruit bats were more interesting than I was expecting (they have periods of activity during daylight hours), and the tigers were magnificent.
Near the end of the day, we find ourselves at an overlook of the African plains exhibit again. Down below, a rhino bosses around some giraffes who are loafing near the palm trees while behind the the sun is going down. Just up the hill from us is something I’m intimately familiar with, but was certainly not expecting to see inside a zoo: a campground.
Guests can overnight at the park and stay in canvas tents. The program is called Roar and Snore, and while I don’t know what the cost would be for a sleepover at a zoo (expensive I’m sure), I bet it would be a whole lot of fun. There are different packages available that include different sized tents, but sadly there is no “bring your own” option. Ah well, maybe someday!
they kick us out we decide to leave, and have to face the two hour drive back up to Culver City, which is still slow and congested all the way up to the end. I’ve really enjoyed my time in the LA area, but I certainly won’t be missing this traffic when we leave. Tomorrow I hook up the Casita and we head east towards our next destination, Joshua Tree National Park! See you there.
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