The Wild Animal Park in San Diego has a new name, Safari Park. This rebranding sets the perfect tone for experiencing the park as unlike traditional zoos, the park is set up like a safari with expansive enclosures, letting the animals roam as if on a game preserve.
Ways to see San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park
Like going on safari, there are many ways that you can enhance your visit to the park. You can simple visit for the day, like a zoo, but be sure to wear sneakers as you’ll be walking.
Or, you can partake in some unique experiences similar to those offered on a traditional safari. A photo caravan, zip line and hot air balloon ride are all possibilities … I can tell you that I saw more animals on this hot air balloon here than the one I went on in Kenya!
More possibilities include camping overnight in a tent or a Segway tour. The guide told me that the last camp out, the guest were surprised by a baby giraffe being born — what fun! Last, but not least, if you have a budding veterinarian on your hands, they offer a behind the scenes look at their expansive vet clinic. Take note, this is not your average vet — think rhinos, elephants, giraffes, tigers and more. How’s that for an afternoon adventure?!
Behind-the-Scenes Safari Tour
I grew up going to the Safari Park. As a matter of fact, it was opened on the day I was born. Naturally, my kids have been many times, as we are sure to visit at least every year. We all have our favorite animals exhibits, like the gorillas and the lions, but on this last visit I was looking for a way to get my family more engaged with a special encounter. Given that we have a three year-old, the best option was the Behind-the-Scenes Safari.
What you get with the private tour is active learning. Instead of walking around taking in the information on the exhibit signs, you get detailed dialogue with a biologist and hands on learning for two hours. What do the elephants eat, how much, what toys are their favorites, how they are used, how they are trained with the positive reward method, how long they nurse their babies, how the pack takes care of them, etc.
For over two hours my three older kids peppered the biologist with questions. To have the undivided attention of a zookeeper for a few hours paired with behind the scenes access and a cool car to ride around in, is an incredible experience.
We started off our behind-the-scenes tour with the elephants and learned how their keepers provide care, enrichment, food, etc. We were also treated to a glimpse of a four day-old elephant who was outrageously cute!
Next, we went to see the Okapis. We have a unique fondness for this beautiful rainforest animal because we are all so excited when we remember it as an animal that starts with “O” during our car games. Then off to see the very playful Bobo monkeys. Their acrobatics and silly antics kept us laughing. Finally, we got a hands-on experience with an anteater. During this visit, we also toured the entire park.
This is perfect for people who want very active learning, people with mobility issues and anyone in a time crunch (we saw the whole park in about two hours). We came away with a rich understanding of the value and importance of the park.
What truly distinguishes this animal park from others is it’s ability to successfully breed various animals, particularly endangered species. This is accomplished through an extensive research program, as well as the park’s ability to mimic a natural setting, making the animals feel safe enough to reproduce.
Rather than having the animals confined in small enclosures, they roam hundreds of acres. It’s through programs like the ones at the wild animal park that we can teach our children about the vast number of wild species and how important it is to protect them. This very evident in their Northern White Rhino program. The have two of the seven left in the world at Safari Park! A very powerful message for all of us about the importance of animal conservation.
Note: You can take up to 10 people on the Behind-the-Scenes Safari to spread out the cost of the tour. Any of the special encounters are in addition to the admission price.
Photo credit: Nancy Solomon. Safari Park hosted the Solomon family for this tour. They did not ask her to express any particular point of view.
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