2014: A New RV!

San Diego Safari Park

September 19


The San Diego Zoo has a sister operation called San Diego Safari Park. As with the zoo, we'd seen it once on our previous visit but wanted to return. This place was a bit more to my liking than the zoo; most of the enclosures are spacious, more like habitats than cages, and there's over 300 acres of open-range enclosures for antelopes, gazelles, zebras, giraffes, and birds. They've also made it very visitor-friendly with such amenities as this cooling-off walkway under a waterfall.

We got there early and headed immediately to the Siberian tiger exhibit, where one of the animals was pacing and roaring loudly. Of course, I remembered I had a video camera AFTER the tiger stopped. Sheesh. I got some decent stills at least.

Since 1979, The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have participated in a highly successful breeding program for the almost-extinct California condor. In 35 years they have helped increase the population from only a few dozen birds to over four hundred, some two hundred of those released in the wild. At the Safari Park, some of these condors can be seen in the world's biggest birdcage.

Flying fox. Bat-girl.

Our next stop was the bat-house, to visit the colony of Rodrigues fruit bats or flying foxes. These bats are named for their home, the island of Rodriguez in the Indian Ocean. We viewed the bats thru heavy screening that I assume keeps the light low in their enclosure; so photos were problematic. I did shoot video which includes some close-up tongue action.

Ring-tailed lemur. Ocelot.

You can walk right into the ring-tailed lemur enclosure, through a kind of double-door airlock. There's a keeper inside to make sure the tourists don't touch the animals. If a lemur comes near you, you're supposed to back off. Sure enough, one of the little devils jumped right onto the path in front of us. We backed off.

We boarded the tram that takes visitors through the open range enclosures where many animals roam free. These areas are somewhat bare and dry, like the plains or savanna where the animals would live; but there are palm trees and lovely watering holes.

One of the first exhibits we passed contained a baby black rhino around adorably after its mother.

There was a hot-air balloon ride in the middle of the park. It only went up and down, since it was permanently tethered by a ground rope. We saw it flying high all during our day at the park.

After we left the tram, we found the lion enclosure where two young lions were relaxing in the shade. While we watched and snapped, they began playing like kittens with a big cardboard box. Luckily, I had the video camera at the ready.

We had some time to kill before a final mid-afternoon appointment. Our tired legs managed to stumble as far as the elephant pen to watch a baby pachyderm getting his daily mud bath.

Afterwards, somehow we ended up looking down on the ubiquitous balloon.

Cheetah run. Cheetah limo.

The big attraction at the Safari Park is the daily Cheetah Run. Each afternoon, one of the trained cheetahs demonstrates its blazing speed on a specially-built 330-foot track. You can crowd in along the railing for free, or buy a $10 ticket for a "prime viewing area", which I did.

The star arrived in his own limousine, taking a chauffeured lap down the course and soaking up the admiration of his fans.

Cheetah meet-and-greet.

Before the run took place, the trainer led Shiley the cheetah on a leash into a special viewing area where those who had paid an extra $40 got a close-up look and a photo op.

FINALLY it was time! The trainers demonstrated how the run works: a lure is dragged down the course on a winch, just fast enough to get the cheetah up to top speed. The trainers demonstrated the run with a companion dog who works with the cheetah, keeping it calm. Then it was time for Shiley to do his thing. On a trainer's signal, simultaneously the lure winch is started and the cheetah is released (from a large dog crate in the back of the truck).

Now folks, we tried to get still photos. But this activity ain't still. There was nothing but a blur of cheetah-colored pixels on our viewer. This beast is fast! But all is not lost; I was ready with my video camera. Because I was at the far end of the run, I couldn't get much of the run itself, but I got the cheetah skidding to a stop and also some wonderful close-up video of this magnificent animal resting with the trainer after the run.

It was a perfect way to end our visit. The video was good enough that I could take these frame captures to use as stills. Viva Shiley!