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    Wild Animal Park: A Thing Apart

    August 15, 2006 by Brandy Vencel

    It is my understanding that the San Diego Zoo is one of the best {if not the best} in the world. But by going to a smaller, simpler zoo, one can easily guess what the best zoo might be like. And something similar can be said about Sea World. After all, if one has been to an aquarium, one can guess what Sea World might be like, even though it is much more than a mere aquarium. But the Wild Animal Park is, as I said in the title, a thing apart.

    The thing about a zoo is that the animals are cooped up in such small places that they often act quite differently from how they would act in The Wild {as the tour guides incessantly called it}. The Wild Animal Park, however, is as close as one can get to going on a safari without actually going on one. As a person who is officially afraid of places like Africa and Alaska, this is the closest I ever plan on being.

    We saved for two years for this trip, and we made sure we went on one of the Photo Caravans offered by the Park. This is a flat-bed truck with seating built into the bed that takes a small group of tourists out into the animal compounds. Consider it the opposite of the zoo, with humans in a small, motorized cage, and animals running all about.

    Now, granted, all the animals at the Park cannot run free. They wouldn’t want the lions ruining their breeding programs. But still, there are these huge, open areas that contain herds of various kinds of animals, all interacting the way they would at a watering hole in Africa. It is truly astounding.

    Here are some photos, though they can never do real life justice:

    This is similar to what we saw when we first drove in. It was a regular Jurassic Park moment, with all the different herds interacting and living together. Absolutely amazing!

    Giraffes are such beautiful creatures, though I was a bit intimidated by their height and strength (not that they would hurt a person intentionally). This photo shows the ordeal of bending over to nibble grass or drink water. I also watched a young giraffe spend a good deal of time trying to sit down.

    This guy walked right up to the truck and stuck his head in next to me, sniffing around for food.

    So, naturally, we fed him! {Well, I didn’t. I prefer to only feed animals that are shorter than I am.} Here is my handsome husband giving one of the ladies some acacia leaves. We later learned that the giraffes “chew the cud” and are in a state similar to our REM-sleep while they are doing so. This is why they seem to be in a daze when they wander around chewing.

    Here are a couple adult wildebeests, with a younger one lying to the right side. We actually got to see a wildebeest in labor before we left the area {I saw part of the delivery, but not the entire baby was out yet}.

    This is not one of our best shots, but I was having trouble picking and choosing, it was all so amazing to me. This is, obviously, a rhino in the forefront, but also notice the herds grazing in the background.

    This is a pretty good close-up, but from a distance, these guys looked just like a heap of rocks. I was surprised to see them get up and move around!

    There are two types of rhinos, and this is the second, known as the Indian or Greater One-horned Rhinoceros. Does he look hungry?

    This is a close-up of someone on our tour feeding an apple to a very hungry rhino.

    After dropping an apple slice in the mouth, we were allowed to pet them a bit. They like the human touch. I fed the rhino, too, but the photo came out without me in it! So here is Si again.

    Here is a lovely married couple of East Africa Crowned Cranes {this type of bird mates for life}. God gave them their spiky hair to help them blend into the brush and better hide from predators.

    This is a herd of Cape Buffalo, with one deer mixed in. Apparently, this particular deer has been taken in and accepted by the buffalo, and rarely spends time with his own kind outside of breeding season. These buffalo are mean. There are a set of criteria an animal has to meet in order to be allowed in these areas. One of them is that they “play well with others.” This buffalo barely made the cut, and has been known to chase the veterinarians!

    Here is a closer look at the Cape Buffalo. This is one of the only animals tame enough for the area that will look a person in the eye.

    I am pretty sure this is a small group of Kenya Impala. They were so beautiful and graceful in their movements. We loved to watch them run when they were spooked by a lion’s roar in the distance.

    Check out the antlers on this Swamp Deer! Some of the deer we saw {various kinds} still had fresh antlers, transparent enough that they were red with all the blood running through them. We learned that deer in such a state are extremely vulnerable. They cannot use their antlers as a weapon until they harden; breaking them could cause them to bleed to death.

    For those who cannot or do not want to afford the Photo Caravan, there is also a {free with admission} train that travels the perimeter of the areas we were inside of. We took the train at dusk, a time when the animals tend to be excited. This is the view looking out over the areas where some of the wild cats are isolated. It was such a beautiful ride. And the drivers take their time and tell you about what you are seeing; the average ride lasts 45 minutes {Caravans are 2.5 hours}.

    This is an Okapi, and though the stripes on its hind legs might remind one of a zebra, it is actually a relative of the giraffe, which becomes more evident when one sees the extremely long tongue on display during feeding. Though not in the large open areas, there are some wonderful places to walk and see lesser-known animals like this one. I believe there were three types of animals in the tiny field where this Okapi lives.

    Here he is, the King of the Jungle. Lions sleep a lot, and yet we were able to view him awake not once, but twice. It was a delight. In the morning, we had seen him out, surveying his territory. He moved exactly the way I imagined he would. He walks like a king.

    I will end with one last giraffe photo. Besides the rhinos, the giraffes were my favorite (from a distance). And seeing them run excited me. The limited space in a traditional zoo doesn’t allow for such behavior. And that is what sets the Wild Animal Park apart: the space. When the animals run free, people can get a realistic glimpse of The Wild.

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  • Reply Brandy August 17, 2006 at 5:52 am

    Welcome back! Hope the Big Move went well…

    We did hear the lion roar (only the male was out the day we were there), but we were so far away when it happened. It really is amazing, though, even at a distance. And it’s also interesting to see the other animals respond.

    We look forward to taking our kids someday, too!

  • Reply Kimbrah August 17, 2006 at 5:28 am


    Did you get to hear the lions roar? The first time we went to the Wild Animal Park (we have a membership to the Zoo and the Park) I realized that I had never heard a lion roar before. It shook me to the bones it was so loud and deep! I thought it was coming over a speaker, but it wasn’t, it is just really boneshaking! The kids really liked it, too. I think we must have sat there for almost an hour just watching the lions play and roar. I am glad you guys got to experience some of our favorite hometown attractions. Loved the picture of the Okapi by the way. They are one of my favorites (Karlos’ too!)

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