We aren’t supposed to pet the giraffe because they don’t like it, but it’s hard to remember that when the five-month-old Safari reaches its curious head into the open-air truck looking for the carrots and lettuce we’ve been given to feed them. The older giraffes, like Calgary, are more reluctant to approach and only one works up the courage to take our treats.
This is the highlight of the special Wake Up the Wild tour at the African Lion Safari on RR#1 between Hamilton and Cambridge. It’s a new feature of the park: an up-close look, with a tour guide, at lions, giraffe, rhinos and zebras for a small group of fewer than 20, before the park opens and the masses flood in. For $150 per person (including park admission) participants get the thrill of a lifetime.
First, we load into an enclosed bus to see the lions eat breakfast. They’re released from their den and head toward pieces of raw steak (more than one per animal) and the pride gnaws contentedly knowing their next meal is an easy find. Second, we visit the white lions, a genetic anomaly not documented in the wild for fifteen years, and new to the safari. These are adolescent siblings and behave accordingly, bating each other into wrestling and grabbing each other’s steak.
Last, outside the lion zone (at African Lion Safari animals roam within fenced sections and people stay confined to vehicles) we board the open truck for a trip onto the savannah joined by Jason Pootoolal, giraffe and hoofstock supervisor. It’s here we offer treats by extending our arms, experiencing what it’s like to be within touching distance of a prized possession: young Safari is Canada’s first giraffe produced via artificial insemination, a success the park is excited about because of the conservation potential.
Conservation is an important part of the behind-the-scenes activity at this adventure park that first opened 45-years ago as a tourist attraction. Today they are breeding endangered animals, like cheetahs, something you learn about on the Wake up the Wild tour, the ideal experience for budding zoologists over the age of ten. Younger ones are better with a regular visit to the park either in your car or on a tour bus, and definitely don’t miss the elephant swim. Open May to Oct. 13, 2014. (wwwlionsafari.com)
This article was previously published in Mom and Caregiver Magazine, July 2014