Close encounters of the wild kind

wagon ride

wagon ride

Looking at wild animals in cages in a conventional zoo may be absorbing, but interacting with them up close in their natural setting is a different kind of thrill.

Within the premises of the Toda-iji Temple in Nara, Japan, deers roam while visitors are engrossed in feeding them.

Years ago, during a side trip to the Zoobic Safari in Subic, the excitement and fear of encountering huge, ferocious tigers inches away from the vehicle, as if they were foraging, can be one for the books. When a 400-pound tiger jumped on the top of our vehicle, the strong thud also made my heart leap.

In a zoo in Bangkok, this time, I gently stroked a huge tiger, for a fee, as its trainer sat by its side.

Its velvety coat was like a thick rug I’d like to roll myself into. But I didn’t hang out too long, fearing that when it roars, it might blow me away.

Riding an elephant in Bangkok made me feel on top of the world, like royalty, even as I swayed side to side.

But I held on tightly to my wooden box seat fearing thatI might fall.

(But I wouldn’t mind riding a camel.)

In the summer last year, we visited the Virginia Safari Park, an 18-acre (nearly 73 hectares)in Natural Bridge Virginia, a southeastern state in the US known for its scenic mountain ranges.

My two little nieces shrieked with excitement knowing that we were going to feed some animals, like deers, llamas and other wild animals, and see them up close in a safari park. Think Savannah. Eyes wide with delight, their questions seemed endless.

As our vehicle approached the entrance of the drive-through safari park, the herd of animals came into view.

The same feeling of excitement and a bit of being petrified still struck me and I guess it was how the little girls felt,

Well, at least the tigers were confined to their own territory in the safari park.

The vehicles ahead of ours inched their way through the road where llamas, deers, gazelles, warthogs and other animals strolled in natural surroundings. These animals approached vehicles that rolled down windows, a cue that food was available.

A friendly-looking llama approached our vehicle, nudged its face into the rolled-down window as my sister in the front passenger seat offered the bucket of animal grains which we bought at the safari park.

The llama vigorously devoured the animal feed that my sister had to summon all her strength to keep the bucket
in place.

Six-year-old Alexa and three-year-old Abigail watched in awe and wonder and a bit of hesitation as the animal ate. As their fear wore down, they finally took turns feeding the llama and patted its wooly head.

Alas, when the deers came nearer, nothing was left as the llamas consumed the grains.

The safari was a three-mile or nearly five-kilometer drive-through where we saw more animals up close, like the huge bull elk, zebras, camels, more deers, rhinoceros, bisons, and tortoises which could be nearly a hundred years old.

The experience of just seeing them up close was pure delight.

At the end of the drive-through safari park, we found ourselves walking at the Safari Village Walk-Through where my nieces stroked the length of a large white and yellow python.

“Don’t touch the head or the tail,” yelled the snake handler to the children who were allowed to interact with the still python.

Feeding the giraffe was another first-of-a-kind experience. Its long dark purple tongue swept the food off the hands of my nieces.

Mazie was a 15-year-old giraffe who was going to give birth anytime soon. We were told by the handler that giraffes carry their baby for
13 to 15 months.


Her long, very thick black lashes (as if buckets of mascara were poured on them) that framed her eyes were fascinating to watch.

Walking farther, we saw a lot of kangaroos, some with joeys in their pouch, eating or lazing around. The sight of joeys totally delighted the kids.

There were still a lot of animal encounters at the Virginia Safari Park that a whole day’s visit there was well worth it.

But what thrilled Alexa and Abigail the most was feeding the colorful budgies at the Budgie Adventure Aviary.

Stretching their arms, holding a feed stick, they waited for budgies to perch on the stick and start picking on the grains.

Perhaps never in their wildest dreams did they expect to be this close to their winged friends.

I am sure the girls will remember these encounters with the wild animals and will define their own experiences — just as I have.

Being able to touch or even be inches away from them, no matter how huge and seemingly intimidating they are, gave me a feeling of triumph at having conquered a fear.

The experiences gave me a measure of confidence enough to be ready for another adventure.

And if the highly anticipated safari in Carmen, Cebu, opens late this year as planned, then Cebuanos will certainly have a one-of-a kind experience.

TAGS: close, kind, wild
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