Wildlife Safari is open and booming with life, offering families vibrant one-of-a-kind memories during the COVID-19 social distancing mandate. We recently toured the Wildlife Safari Drive-Through and found some fun facts about 12 of the Wildlife Safari star species.
Most of the animals discussed below are on a species survival plan (SSP) or are an endangered species. We saw the most powerful animals, as well as flightless birds capable of killing with their feet or pecking eyes out with their beak. We learned about how one bear is in less pain due to cannabidiol (CBD) medication. We’ll share exciting news about the six new cheetah cubs, and we will even introduce you to the African “wild beast” that came face-to-face with Disney’s Mufasa.
Wildlife Safari features two ostriches, part of the Rhea family of flightless birds that includes two more sub-species which we will see later. Ostriches are quite dangerous, able to kill a lion with a single kick. That’s a valid fact to substantiate common phobias. Truffle is the second park ostrich, but Desi is the big guy that welcomes you as you enter the main gates through Africa. Keep in mind that an ostrich’s eyeball is bigger than its brain. It WILL see you coming.
2. White Rhino
Our second stop in Africa is to visit southern white rhinos, the elder female Taryn and Kayode her male companion. They are often up the hill near the fence. Meeting them up-close was an exciting surprise. We were told that Rhino horns are made out of keratin, just like our hair and fingernails. Looks like these two might benefit from a manicure.
The elegant, long-necked Wildlife Safari giraffes interact with humans like we are all great friends. Their names are Miya, Erin, Margie and Sally, and each has a heart that is two feet long. The personal encounters allow us to feed them from our hands, standing safely in a caged truck. Although giraffes would rather run than fight, one of their powerful kicks can also kill a lion. Did you know that giraffes have seven vertebrae in their neck just like people?
4. Rhea and Emu
As we drove through Wildlife Safari’s gates of Asia, we saw the first of many fascinating and potentially terrifying rheas and emus sitting, standing, fluffing, walking towards you, anything. All birds in the Rhea family are fast because like giraffes they would rather run from danger than fight. Rheas are a lighter grey with tan, dark eyes and slightly smaller than the red-eyed emu.
One of our experiences included an unexpected emu encounter. While we were looking away from a rolled down window, an emu stretched his long neck into the car and snatched the whole food cup out of one of our hands. First thought was whether a finger was lost. Second thought was all of the interactions feeding park animals need to be done cautiously, especially for families with kiddos. The park sells animal feed at $5 a cup which can be used to feed these birds or Wildlife Safari’s several species of deer. Look for the little huts that sell food.
Both rheas and emus are very curious and peck at anything on the park grounds (including, potentially, your car). Wildlife Safari so far has been lucky as none of the park Rheas have used the deadly force of their combined toe and claw length of six inches long to hurt anyone.
5. East African Crowned Crane
We nicknamed the East African crowned crane “Convict” because he pecked aggressively (hard!) at bumpers on cars and at car mirrors. However, the crowned crane pair is officially known as Matt and Fiona. These cranes live inside the Lion Loop across from the African lions. We called the number provided on the park’s Adventure Guide and Drive-Through Map, and the Wildlife Safari guide told us that they “added a female last year with the intention to breed.” Crowned cranes mate for life and are famous for their courtship dances where they bob their head, flap their wings and encircle each other. This pair’s hairdos are phenomenal, and their vibrant blue and yellow colors on black bring out their character.
6. African Lion
Wildlife Safari cares for 3 male African lions and 2 females (coupled). 1 of the males is a son to be sent away to protect against attempts to inappropriately breed.
7. Brown Bear
Sarah Roy, carnivore supervisor, notes that the park is home to two 15-year-old male grizzly bears who live together: Oso and Mak. The third bear is a 31-year-old female Alaskan coastal bear named Claire. They are all brown bears just different subspecies. Oso has hip dysplasia.
Oso is on CBD, and the park staff have seen it help his deteriorating “German Shepard hips” (hip dysplasia). The CBD helps with the inflammation and pain. Wildlife Safari says that this is the first bear they know of to try CBD, so their vets are monitoring it closely so that they can share their success with other facilities in hopes to aid arthritic animals.
In situations like these, Wildlife Safari uses SSP’s or Species Survival Plans which manage endangered species with a nationwide committee. The SSP keeps track of every individual in the population tracking their lineage and genetic background. Wildlife Safari is a member of the national committee and works very closely with the cheetah SSP to track genetics and make sure they are only breeding pairs that will help the cheetah population as a whole by strengthening their genetic diversity.
The hippos are near the end of the African section of the park. Hippos are far more dangerous than they look, always relaxing doing not very much of anything. When we came around the turn near the giraffes and elephants, all we saw were two rounded ponds enclosed in significant wired fencing: but nothing as alarming as the Rheas family of birds. We drove up closer and did not see anything in the water for a minute, then, to our delight, their two heads emerged from being completely under water.
The staff insisted that we comprehend that hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in the whole park. Good thing we were not allowed out of our car to test that theory. We were grateful to catch a shot of Padron, age 19, and Tony who is 2 years old, show off their blood sweat. Ungulate Allison Trout explained it is neither blood nor sweat! The fun fact for hippos is that they make a red-colored skin secretion called blood sweat that acts as a sunscreen, is antibacterial, and a skin moisturizer all in one.
We have to talk about all of the cheetah news! As we already alluded to, Wildlife Safari is far from a zoo. It’s one of the world’s top cheetah breeding centers for research. Other than Africa, it ranks as the first cheetah breeding facility in the world.
We voted amongst ourselves and concluded the park’s most adorable companions are the Ambassador Cheetah, KJ (Khavam Jr.), whose mother abandoned him, and his black and white canine buddy named Rhino. Rhino was rescued from Saving Grace animal shelter and raised alongside KJ, who was born November, 2018.
On March 28, four cheetah cubs were born, making 219 the cumulative total of cheetahs born inside Wildlife Safari since they opened in 1972.
Even more recently, last Saturday, April 11, two more newborn cheetah cubs were transported from Texas after their birth mother took ill becoming incapable of caring for them. The new mother who gave birth to the four quickly embraced the two days-old family additions.
Sarah Roy has been hosting Facebook Live “Cheetah Mondays” so that the public can watch the cubs grow.
10. Sumatran Tiger
To the right after the cheetahs are the park’s Sumatran tigers. Only 400 tigers are left now in the wild.
11. African Elephant
We were big fans of the only male elephant, George, who painted canvas art on a personal encounter as we met and pet this playboy surrounded by the park’s elephant females: Valerie, Moja, and Tava. Various animal art, including by George, is displayed at the park and on sale online at https://wildlifesafari.net/animalarts/.
Last, but not least, is the White-Bearded Gnu, better known as Wildebeest. These are the animals that trampled Mufasa, the beloved king lion from Disney’s ‘Lion King’. The stampede was realistic, as they travel in herds of thousands across Africa.
If you’re in need of a break, the Wildlife Safari is located at the heart of Winston on 1790 Safari Road. There are approximately 110 species between the inner park area and the drive-through. Also, guests can still buy a sampling of foods, such as hotdogs, popcorn, chips, and cotton candy from the Safari Grill are being offered curbside alongside souvenirs available for purchase.
The drive-through hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily offering a family friendly excursion full of lifetime memories; every visit is a unique keepsake. In these times of COVID-19, when many families have reached their limit of feeling imprisoned, especially since recent temperatures have been 60-70 degrees, this extraordinary park, awash in positive and vibrant energy, lets visitors break free of quarantine.
The park is always in need of financial assistance. Wildlife Safari members are one of the park’s most important supporters, and the basic membership, $100 paid annually, calculates to only $9.17 a month, paying for itself after just two visits. Membership benefits include free admission for a year, discounts in the Gift Shop, Safari Grill, the yearly Wildlife and Zoobilee events, and kids’ education camps as well as world class wildlife encounters and education.
We want to thank three incredible Wildlife Safari staff for their time, as well as all of their fun facts and cool stats that helped make this story possible. They are Michael Burns, Marketing Assistant, Allison Trout, Ungulate, and Sarah Roy, Carnivore Supervisor.
The Wildlife Safari’s mission, purpose, and history can be found at https://wildlifesafari.net/history-mission/ (Links to an external site.). For more information, you can reach guest services at 541-679-6761, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, and the website is wildlifesafari.net.
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