Meeting Wildlife Safari’s newest residents — an elephant and a giraffe — are among many exciting reasons to check out the park, according to Executive Director Dan Van Slyke.
Tava, a 35-year-old African elephant, arrived in March at the drive-through wildlife park, which houses more than 500 animals on 600 acres in Winston. Wildlife Safari was thrilled when Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif., donated Tava to the park, Van Slyke said. She joins Wildlife Safari’s two other African elephants, George, 32, and Alice, 43.
Van Slyke said the park has been searching for a third elephant since Tiki died three years ago. Tiki, a female who lived at Wildlife Safari for 37 years, succumbed to respiratory problems in October 2010 at the age of 40.
Elephants are social animals, and it was important to find a new companion for George and Alice after Tiki’s death, Van Slyke said.
“Elephants are really hard to find. We’ve been sort of in an ongoing mission to get another elephant,” he said. “We really needed to find another female to bond with our female.”
A Douglas County attraction since 1972, Wildlife Safari is committed to getting visitors face-to-face with a variety of exotic beasts. Guests do this while driving through the park as well as during group animal encounters lead by keepers, Van Slyke said. Visitors can play tug of war with a lion, feed lettuce to giraffes, pat an elephant’s trunk or toss an apple to a hungry brown bear, among other up-close and personal activities.
“This year, we’re sort of taking it up a notch,” Van Slyke said.
Visitors can camp at Wildlife Safari with the bears, lions or elephants this summer, he said. They can also take a nature hike with two of the park’s cheetahs, Van Slyke said.
By Memorial Day, park visitors should be able to interact with Tava through Wildlife Safari’s elephant encounter program, Van Slyke said.
“She does all of the cool things our elephants do. They paint pictures. They wash cars,” he said. “They love to be petted on their trunks. They love to interact with people.”
Along with getting close to Tava, visitors can meet the park’s other new resident, Miya, a young Somali giraffe who came to Wildlife Safari at the beginning of this year, Van Slyke said. Wildlife Safari plans to offer an encounter in which visitors can visit with and feed her in the giraffe barn, he said. The encounters will help Miya get more familiar with interacting with people, Van Slyke said.
“She is really cool. I think people are really enjoying her,” Van Slyke said. “It will be really low-key. Unlike our other giraffe feeds, they’ll be part of the training process.”
Cheetah nature hikes will be another great opportunity to get close to the park’s animals, he said. Keepers will lead a hike on a nature trail near the park with Mchumba and Khayam, who were born on Leap Day last year, Van Slyke said.
“We’ve got a lot of hiking around here, but people don’t get to hike with a cheetah,” he said.
The young cheetahs were raised by keepers after their mother acted oddly around her offspring. Because of their human contact, Mchumba and Khayam became cheetah ambassadors, animals that handlers take with them to schools and other places to educate the public about cheetahs.
For those who want to spend a night close to wild animals, Wildlife Safari’s adventure camps are a great option, Van Slyke said. Participants sleep in tents and have an evening encounter with the lions or other park animals before taking part in traditional camping activities, such as roasting marshmallows, he said.
“You feel like you’re camping and then you have lions,” Van Slyke said. “We definitely provide the high adventure.”
Along with the self-guided trips through the drive-through portion of the park, Wildlife Safari has started offering guided bus tours with keepers, Van Slyke said.
“Now we have a guide that gets on there and they’ll take you through the entire park,” he said. “We’re finding people want to come and learn all about the animals.”
• You can reach reporter Inka Bajandas at 541-957-4202 or email@example.com.