How close have you ever been to a tiger?
Close enough to hear its footsteps? Close enough to hear it breathe? You can come that close at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. When you’ve been that close, the experience will change you.
For starters, the Sumatran Tigers on display for your viewing at the Park are much narrower and leaner – almost thin – than you’d expect. With only a chain link fence and five feet separating you from the animal, you can observe it intimately. I watched the muscles move under its coat, a coat the color orange which could rival any sunset for brilliance.
Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth I watched it walk in front of me.
Here’s a tip. Visit the park so that your stay coincides with dusk when the tigers become more active and begin anticipating their feeding. While these animals are beautiful to watch nap through the midday, their true majesty reveals itself on the move.
If you are fortunate enough to hear any portion of a roar or growl, you will have really experienced something.
Watching the tiger mesmerized me. Minutes went by, I don’t know how many, other guests stopped, watched and left, I don’t know how many. I stayed, my eyes trying to take in every inch of the animal, trying to commit its form and motion and color to memory.
Who Lives at the Safari Park
If the tigers were the only exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, they would be worth the price of admission. Of course there are more. Rhinos, lions, cheetah, gorilla and elephants are, but a handful of other species on display.
Not only mammals, birds are prevalent as well including California Condors.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s captive breeding program has been instrumental to the survival of this species which bottomed out at 22 wild individuals in 1982. The condors’ saggy, bald head could reasonably be considered grotesque; when you stop to consider what you’re actually looking at – one of the rarest species of birds in the Americas, rescued from the very brink of extinction, with a wingspan pushing 10-feet, close enough in front of you to see the wrinkles on its head – you soon realize you are in the presence of the truly spectacular.
What Makes the Safari Park Different
An obvious question is how is the Safari Park different from the San Diego Zoo which gives it its name? Both are operated by Zoological Society of San Diego with the Zoo opening in 1916 and the Safari Park in 1972.
The Safari Park does not attempt to display as many animals as possible like a zoo. There are no grizzly bears or polar bears or penguins or bison or hippos. What it attempts to do, and succeeds at, is displaying the animals it does feature in environments as near to their natural surroundings as possible. The Safari Park, in general, is more open than a zoo, providing the animals on display more room to roam as they would have in the wild.
The centerpiece of the Safari Park is the African Plains enclosure, a 300 acre, free-range area meant to closely simulate the conditions of the African plain housing giraffe, Cape buffalo, rhinos, zebras and numerous other species. The Africa tram experience comes as close to an African safari as you can have without a passport.
A Must-Visit when in San Diego
The park is located well outside of San Diego’s city center in Escondido and opens every day of the year.
Admission comes in at $50 for adults 12+ with a discounted ticket available for guests who’d also like to visit the zoo. If admission were twice as expensive, it would still be worth every penny. The San Diego Zoo regularly ranks as the best zoo in the world and its Safari Park matches that standard.
Considering the rarity of the animals on display, animals almost impossible to find elsewhere in captivity or the wild, and coupling that with the extraordinary research and conservation work they conduct, the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park pass well beyond mere tourist attractions. These institutions too often help form a last line of defense between the animals they display and extinction.
Through that lens, they serve a purpose no less grandiose than protecting the diversity of life on earth.
Short of that, they’re a great way to spend a day and create lasting memories when in San Diego.