Friday, March 30, 2012

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Until recently called the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Safari Park is 1800 acres devoted to African and Asian animals and is near Escondido, not San Diego. My brother has lived in San Diego or Escondido ever since graduating from college so I've had many opportunities to visit the Park. I love going there, although it was more fun when the lines were not so long. On Saturday, March 24, we waited in a slow line to get into the Park, a quicker but longer line to get into the Butterfly Jungle, and a very long slow line to ride the tram around the Heart of Africa. But the weather was pleasant and the animals and plants, as always, fascinating.

We started our tour with the Butterfly Jungle, which opens each year for just a few weeks. This year it opened the day we visited, March 24. Thirty species of butterflies, hundreds of them, flit about the Hidden Jungle (an aviary the rest of the year), resting on the colorful flowers and often on the visitors.

Giant Owl Butterflies were the most numerous. Here they are decorating a tree. They have rather somber colors until they spread their wings. The top side is a brilliant blue, much bluer than this photo would suggest.

After leaving the Butterfly Jungle, we visited the Okapi exhibit. Looking like a cross between a giraffe and a zebra, the Okapi lives in African rain forests where its coloring helps camouflage it. The Park says the bright stripes on its butt also help calves keep sight of their mothers as they follow them through the dense jungle. Each Okapi's stripe pattern is unique. Like a giraffe, they have a long, prehensile tongue to pick their favorite leaves, as this one is trying to do below.

Gerenuks used to be at the Oregon Wildlife Center where I survey raptors in the winter months. But the Gerenuks were not happy with Oregon's cold winters so returned to warmer climes. These fragile looking animals from semi-arid regions of East Africa almost never need to drink water... not a plus in rainy Oregon! They are doing well at the Safari Park. I love watching them stand on those impossibly slender legs to reach tree leaves and treats.

The Park had birds big enough (and close enough) for the pocket-sized point-and-shoot camera I'd borrowed from Johnny. Here are an African Crane and a Black-crowned Night Heron. The heron may be a wild bird freeloading at the zoo. It was well-camouflaged just a few feet from the trail.

Below is an Abyssinian Ground Hornbill that strutted about and scolded loudly to protect its mate on a nest in the cave nearby.

This African Tortoise was entertaining a small crowd of people in one of the grassy areas where zoo personnel give talks with and about various animal ambassadors. The tortoise kept wandering off and had to be carried back to center stage.

On our way to the tram ride around the Heart of Africa, we saw two Cheetahs feasting on meaty bones. Cheetah Run is a new attraction at the Park, but we didn't stay late enough in the evening to watch. Instead, I watched it on the Park's website: Behind the feasting Cheetah in the photo below you can see another way to see the Park, a bit more expensive: take a safari truck into the Heart of Africa and feed a giraffe.

We opted for the included-in-price-of-admission tram ride. I liked the soft gray African Wild Asses.

We crept past a new baby giraffe, still in the nursery pen with its mother and auntie and barely visible in the distant shadows. It is lying down to the left of the right-most giraffe.

After the tram ride we began our hike up Condor Ridge, where I always want to see the Condors on exhibit. But on the way, we stopped to admire the papa lion at his favorite siesta spot, on top of an abandoned vehicle. His harem was sleeping on the ground below and right of him, looking like large brown rocks.

The view from Condor Ridge shows how extensive the Park is and only a fraction of it can be seen even from up here. The portion above and beyond the Condor flight cage is being restored to its natural state... full of desert plants... to give the native fauna a home.

For one reason or another, these Condors in their large flight cage cannot be set free. Every once in awhile, one would unfurl those over-8-feet-when-spread wings and fly across the cage.

Most of the Park is kept watered and green and flowering. It is a beautiful place to stroll through, large enough to not be crowded on the paths.

My brother and his wife are planning to move to Colorado, to be closer to their daughter and grandson and Elladine's sister and her children and grandchildren. My brother has Parkinson's Disease and Elladine anticipates needing help with care-giving eventually. It is about the same distance from our farm to Colorado as it is to Escondido so I will have no farther to travel to visit Bob and Elladine... but I'm glad I had my San Diego Zoo Safari Park fix this year.

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