I took this photo last weekend. The palm trees are the clue that I wasn’t merely across town at the zoo. If you’ve guessed that I was in southern California, then you’re almost as cool as I am! For four days and three nights, I stayed with my wonderful friends Amy & Casey at their digs in fashionable Santa Ana, only three traffic jams away from downtown L.A. I’m not going to discuss the entire trip in one post. Today, I’m just going to talk about the wonderful wild animal park near San Diego that we visited.
There are several options for how a patron may view the park. There’s a lot to be seen simply walking around, except that one’s exposure to certain animals will be necessarily limited. Another option is to take a balloon ride high above the park. There are also a couple of motorized options. We chose the most expensive of these options – $130 per person to spend two hours riding around the 900 acres on which roam a wide variety of African and Asian animals. Yes, that’s pretty steep where I come from – but friends & neighbors let me tell you – it’s totally worth it! There’s only a handful of places in the world where you can do something like this, and the San Diego Wild Animal Park is one of them.
Amy and I, along with about ten other people plus a knowledgeable guide, boarded what was essentially the back of a pickup truck. It had a canopy above and wooden sides going up about three feet, but we were very much in the open air. This enabled us to meet creatures like the one shown above on a very personal basis. We were even able to feed some of them. In the photo below, Amy has just had a large leaf taken from her hand by the 14 inch tongue of that giraffe.
Our close encounters while on the truck were not limited to giraffes. The white rhino shown below was directly ahead of us at one point. Our driver tactfully deferred to his 5,000 pound frame and waited for him to pass.
A little further down the road, we came across Bhopu. Bhopu is the name of the park’s largest black rhino. The only animals there bigger than Bhopu are the elephants. Now if you were riding in the wilds of Africa, you would never – repeat, NEVER – approach a wild rhino in such a manner. But Bhopu understands that these trucks represent treats. Below you can see your delighted author feeding apple slices directly into Bhopu’s mouth. I even felt his horn, touched his face, and got a little slimed by him. It was my great pleasure to do so.
The two hour truck ride also introduced us to various other animals from the other side of the globe, including types of oxen, sheep, and the like, but some of them were actually too dangerous for us to approach too closely, though we rolled near them and got a good look at them. On our walking tour of the park, we saw some other fascinating and beautiful animals, a few of which are shown below.
This is a golden eagle, perched on the protected arm of its trainer. We could get to within a few feet of this magnificent bird, but we were warned to get no closer, nor to provoke her in any way.
This is an okapi, whom we came across in a quiet corner of the park as it serenely contemplated its place in the circle of life. It does look as if it were pieced together from parts of several different animals.
In summary, this was cooler than any zoo I’ve ever visited or imagined. If you’re ever heading down San Diego way, save up your money and take in the Wild Animal Park. You won’t regret it.