MY FIRST zoo experience still terrifies me. I wouldn’t even call it a zoo or of any sort of facility because it was more of a beaten and run-down nature path in uphill Lahug with few cages, most of which were empty.
It was smelly and a bit crowded. Imagine elementary school kids staring at emaciated animals. Except for a few snakes, monkeys, birds and barn animals, it was obvious that everything was a disappointment. You can see it from the structure of the place, small and badly maintained; the cages were quite crammed and there were only a few animals on display. The farthest I can remember was my seatmate crying over the
baboon with a chain around his foot climbing across a tight rope and making faces at us. No exaggeration here, it really was traumatizing.
For a while the proverbial question has haunted me of caged animals—if it’s worthy to slip out of realities not just for leisure, but as a way of life. Where creatures great and small heed to that semblance of home—a place where it feels a sense of belonging. That needed security in the confines from the modern world.
At the onset of the summer season and scathing from an early call time I have to heed the call for another animal adventure. Sure enough (ah, the power of childhood memory), there is something about animal watching that is enriching to the soul, like facing our monster head on. Only that the monster is surging inside, when your chest is heaving in its seams, embarking on a trail of nature and wanderlust defining its own meaning.
A good two hour-drive non-stop, Cebu Safari & Adventure Park is part of a 2,000-hectare property owned by the family of businessman Michel Lhuillier in barangay Corte. An estimated eight kilometers from the national road from Carmen north of Cebu. The huge property boasts 111 species of animals including zebras, tigers, camels, lions and giraffes, among others with more than a million orchids from the Lhuillier family collection.
Described as the modern zoological refuge boasting comparisons to that in to Singapore, the animals are spread across four areas of the huge park called the Tiger Turf, Orangutown, African Savanna and Safari Outpost. Spend the rest of day so you can maximize and can catch a glimpse of nature, either hop on board a tram or take a walk down the canopy trail under the shade of mahogany trees, there’s no stuffy lectures here, it’s reintegrating you to live animals while sharpening observation and sensory knowledge.
There’s that certain amount of waiting but the logical highlight and must-stop should be Derek, the white Bengal tiger.
Yes, there is a certain kind of majestic and wander that is sure to captivate, if not, enchant you with Derek. And when you accede at the sight of the rarest white along with the most recognisable and popular of the world’s charismatic megafauna, there’s nothing but pure awe.
What makes this an enchanting encounter is the danger sans the eye contact, Derek is all about the inebriated side-eye. Maybe it’s the longing for feeding frenzy at high noon when everybody aims for the big bite. And it’s a different kind of picnic here on my side of the plexi glass.
And like the deer, llamas and camel seen grazing on the hillsides of the Safari, one of the biggest attractions of the safari are the birds which they say could rival that of Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park. Guests can feed the birds at the Aviary Dome and the Macaw Aviary with its many bird species such as the the rufous-necked hornbills, the Lady Amherst’s pheasant, the Eclectus parrot and the Philippine hawk eagle among others. Soon enough an amphitheater which can seat about 1,000 people will have these birds sing and perform.
Amongst all Cebu Safari is not all about animals as guests will also be setting their sight on the breathtaking view of over hundred decorative plants plus the million orchids and other decorative plants at Michel’s Garden and Michel’s Pavilion.
There is so much to look forward in the Safari. Also in the works is the campsite and the 60-room hotel atop the mountains that’s set to be opened in the next two years, as well as an obstacle course, zipline ride, and the river that winds around the Safari with swimming pools.
Guests are not allowed to bring in food into the facility to prevent feeding the animals with food brought from outside as it might be harmful. However the safari has a number of restaurants that serves meals and refreshments, all over the property.
With its splendid landscaping Cebu Safari captivates. All the more, everything is seemingly visually arresting: it gives you that fleeting feeling that you are in another place, another time.
One can say that the place it has its promise. And it allows you to feel. It is an exhilarating experience to be with nature, as if you are living the jungle dream. And nothing beats the feeling that for just a day, you have conquered yourself in communing with nature, leaving nothing but footprints of memory that will last for a lifetime—like being a child again—that’s only if allof us will be good stewards of nature.