Looking For A Different Kind of Getaway? Why not the Wild Animal Park in San Diego, CA?

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Recently, I had a yearning to do something different for a change...to "get close to nature". I'd only visited the Wild Animal Park once before, about 10 years ago, on a very hot August day. So hot, that we were prompted to stay only 2 hours. But, there is so much more to see than 2 hours worth of this park.

So let me tell you about it!

The San Diego Wild Animal Park is a zoo in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego, California. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in the city and Southern California. The Park houses a fabulous array of wild and endangered animals including species from the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. It's in a semi-arid environment, based around Nairobi village in Kenya, and one of its most notable features is the large Wgasa Railway which explores 700 acres of range exhibits. These enclosures house such animals as cheetahs, antelopes, lions, giraffes, elephants, zebras, horses, rhinos, and bonobos. What is Bonobo you ask? Bonobos are complex beings with profound intelligence, emotionality, and sensitivity. They are most closely related to the human race. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture to display, because they were hiding the day I visited the WAP. Wind has a profound affect on animals and they like to stay out of it. However, we were very lucky to find so many animals out and about regardless of weather conditions.

WAP, visited by 2 million people annually, has an area of 1,800 acres and, in 2005, housed 3000 animals of more than 400 species plus 3,500 species of unique plants. Okay, so I had some help from stats in getting all these facts, but they don't tell you all these things at the park, so you have to do your research.

Depending on the season, the park has about 400 to 600 employees. One thing I found very interestins is that WAP is also Southern California's quarantine center for zoo animals imported into the United States through San Diego.

WAP has the world's largest veterinary hospital, another suprising fact. Next door to the hospital is the Center for Reasearch on Endangered Species which holds the park's Frozen Zoo. The section one can't go readily into for a glimpse - darn!

Though I much prefer WAP to the San Diego Zoo, both are run the Zoological Society, and WAP is 32 miles away from the zoo, at 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road east of Escondido, California along CA-78.

Now, let me tell you about WAP Park History....

The San Diego Wild Animal Park was the dream of former president of the San Diego Zoological Society Dr. Charles Schroeder. Dr. Schroeder dreamed of a supplementary breeding facility to give extra space that the zoo could not provide for breeding large animals and ungulates. Eventually, his dream evolved into a separate facility which was also opened to the public. Thank you Dr. Schroeder!

What Attractions can you expect to see at the Wild Animal Park?

WAP's most famous, and popular, exhibits, are the open-range enclosures. Visitors are taken on a monorail to view various habitats representing the Asian Plains, East Africa (the largest of the enclosures; it alone is larger than the San Diego Zoo), North Africa, Asian Waterhole, Southern Africa, and the Mountain Habitat. A number of smaller enclosures visible only from the monorail are home to Grevy's zebras, Somali wild asses, kiangs (one of the world's only captive populations of this endangered wild equine), Arabian oryx (large antelope), Japanese serows (a goat-antelope), black rhinoceroses, bonobos (a pygmy monkey and remember, the most closely related to humans), and wild horses. How good is your memory? You got all that?

In the open enclosures there are two subspecies of giraffe, rhinos (the wild animal park has the world's most successful breeding program for Southern white rhinos and is the only zoo to have Northern white rhinos; Indian rhinos are also on display), gaur (the largest of all cattle), vultures, Cape buffalo, markhor sheep, and many species of antelope, gazelle, wild cattle, and deer.

The day I visited WAP, we were told that in as little as one month the new monorail was to open. This was very exciting news and a reason to go back! As of November 2006, the monorail route was undergoing renovation and rerouting so that visitors migh have a fuller experience. In addition the new monorail will feature two separate routes, splitting the attraction into African and Asian portions.

The Park's Nairobi Village houses numerous exhibits for smaller animals. Among these are meerkats (my favorite!), pudu (world's smallest deer and so cute), an African Aviary, lemurs, flamingos, babirusa (a pig like animal), red river hogs, and bee eaters. A large lagoon is home to numerous species of waterfowl, among them shoebill storks.

Lorekeet Landing is a fun place where Lorikeets abound and you can feed them with special brew that's purchased prior to entry. Lorkeets will land on your arms and hands to feed. Kids love every minute of it. Hidden Jungle displays feedable lorikeets and butterflies. Also, there is a nursery where visitors can watch baby animals being hand-fed as well as a nearby petting corral. The day we visited we watch a baby porcupine being hand fed. It was an adorable little creature. There is also a gorilla habitat houses a troop of Western lowland gorillas. Interestingly, you get a very eerie feeling watching these gorillas interact with each other and humans. I watched one gorilla cover his eyes as a way fo telling the folks to stop taking pictures. But, I've also heard of unspeakable things as gorillas flinging certain excrament at the crowds as well. ;) Quick....duck!

Please note that the park is also noted for its California condor breeding program, possibly the most successful program in the country, as well as an amazing collection of rare hornbills.
Condor Ridge displays endangered North American desert wildlife. The featured species are California condors (WAP is the only place the puclic can see them in captivity) and desert bighorn sheep. Other species displayed include falcons, billed parrots, prairie dogs, black footed ferrets, magpies (very noisy birds), and desert tortoises. Oh my, what a variety!!

Heart of Africa is one of the park's feature exhibits. Visitors go down a trail which replicates changing life zones in Africa. They get information about the animals encountered from a booklet they receive at the exhibit entrance. It showcases plains animals - bontebok (a South African Antelope), warthogs, ground hornbills, cheetahs, and a research camp) against a backdrop of the open-range East Africa exhibit. There is a giraffe feeding station where visitors can purchase biscuits to feed the giraffes. What logn necks those giraffe have! For those of us who like birds, it's breathtaking and relaxing to go to the central lagoon and see beautifully colored flamingos, other fowl, and an island with monkeys.

The safari trail takes visitors past some highlight species which are also seen from the monorail tour - lions (in the new lion camp exhibit), Sumatran tigers, and herds of Asian and African elephants. Can you tell the difference between an Asian and African Elephant? Here's a hint: The ears have it!

Now, if you are brave there is a special camp at the WAP called Snoar 'n' Roar. The camp features nicely sized white tents where overnight participants bring all their favorite PJ's and camping gear to spend the still of the night listening to wild animal calls while they slumber...that is, if they can sleep knowing they're surrounded by wild animals. My cousins ventured on the Snoar 'n' Roar one year, and said it was fantastic! In the summer months, there is also dancing and singing that echos through the night sky and is provided by real Native Africans.

I have a friend who has been fortunate enough to visit Africa three times. I was shown the amazing pictures of what was visualized in the last two trips and told many stories that I'll always remember. However, for those of us who may never make it to the Continent of Africa, the Wild Animal Park of San Diego is probably the closest we'll get to it, and lucky were to have a place that is very well planned out and priced to help keep the foundation and park functioning as needed. When you visit the WAP, know that your dollars are going for a good cause.

Information and Ticket Pricing can be found at: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/wap/index.html

Now, if you're ready for a picture tour, please follow me below and I'll be your guide!

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