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June 4, 2014
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Camp with bears, lions and elephants at Oregon's Wildlife Safari

WINSTON — The Wildlife Safari has a big year planned — with a new exhibit, new animals and new opportunities to get closer to the park’s impressive collection of fauna from around the world.

“The Wildlife Safari is so unique, that’s part of what makes it so successful,” said executive director Dan Van Slyke.

This year, the nonprofit wildlife park debuts its elephant watering hole attraction, a sloped 50-by-55-foot pool with a 12-foot waterfall. Guests will be able to get inside the pachyderm enclosure via an underground tunnel that leads to an exhibit room under the waterfall. From there, a spiral staircase leads up several stories through a mock gnarled tree, to an observation deck atop the waterfall. There guests have views of the park all the way to the monkey and lion exhibits.

The design allows drive-through guests to get feet away from George, Alice and Tava, the park’s African elephants, as they swim.

The feature was built by master fabricator Tom Pappas, a local builder whose work resides in Disneyland, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and other destinations around the world. The semi-retired craftsman donated $300,000 of the $400,000 project cost, he says, because his wife and grandkids are big fans of the Wildlife Safari.

In keeping with the park’s mission to get people close to animals, it now allows animal feeding in its Asia section. Guests can purchase cups of low-protein pellets at vending stations, and feed yaks, sika deer, fallow deer, cranes, swans, geese and other animals.

This summer, visitors will have more opportunities to camp with bears, lions and elephants, Van Slyke said. They’ll have the chance to take a nature hike with two of the park’s cheetahs.

This year the Safari will also add to its menagerie. Two breeding female lions from St. Louis will soon join males Enzi and Esavo. “Our hope is to produce some more cubs,” Van Slyke said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a baby lion born at the Wildlife Safari.”

The park will add six flamingoes — doubling the flock — 10 fallow deer, baby wildebeests and bison and a bull elk for breeding purposes.

In 1972, big-game hunter Frank Hart founded a safari-themed adventure park on a 600-acre cattle ranch in Winston, choosing the city because of its proximity to Interstate 5 and its natural resemblance to South Africa. The park operated as business for two years before becoming a nonprofit.

Today, the Wildlife Safari is committed to getting visitors face-to-face with its more than 500 animals from all over the world. It’s one of three parks in Oregon accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which maintains species survival plans for threatened animals. It also has one of the most successful cheetah breeding facilities in the world, with 171 cubs born at the park. The Safari’s animals get out into the community, as well, through the Ambassador Cheetah program and other efforts.

The free Safari Village section of the park includes reptile, primate, bird and petting zoo exhibits. Guests can pay for up-close encounters, including tug-of-war with a lion, feeding lettuce to giraffes, patting an elephant’s trunk or tossing an apple to a hungry brown bear.

Along with the self-guided trips through the drive-through portion of the park, Wildlife Safari offers guided bus tours with keepers.

• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at gandrews@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Apr 9, 2015 10:15PM Published Jun 5, 2014 05:23PM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.