Like all great things, the Wildlife Safari started with a dream. It was Frank Hart’s vision to create a sanctuary designed to save rare and endangered species from across the world. Almost 50 years later, that dream has grown into a rare gem, not only in our own backyard, but in the world.

The park sees over 200,000 visitors a year. It is the only animal park in Oregon with a drive through that allows guests to come face to face with some of our world’s most extraordinary animals.

There are no bars or glass separating sightseers from ostriches, scimitar horned oryx, bison, white-naped cranes, yaks, elk and more. As if that is not close enough, the park also allows visitors unique opportunities such as feeding lions and venturing into the dens of hibernating bears.

Every inch of the Safari’s 600 acres provides a one-of-a-kind experience that draws people from all over the world.

The park is constantly growing; they are always updating and expanding on longtime enclosures and have created a long list of new exhibits they plan on creating. The park just finished expanding their elephant exhibit in July.

Jacob Schlueter, marketing director for the Wildlife Safari, said he knows of one woman that has traveled down from Washington seven years in a row to participate in the same encounter.

“The constant newness makes it an annual trip, rather than a one-time trip,” he said.

Both Schlueter and park director Dan Van Slyke are particularly excited to bring red pandas to the Safari very soon.

“Red pandas are the coolest things on Earth,” Van Slyke added enthusiastically.

The Safari’s cheetah breeding is world renown and has produced 214 cubs to date. A 2016 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated there were approximately 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild, making the Safari’s work crucial to the species survival. Despite the fact that cheetahs are really hard to breed, the Safari has been very successful. Van Slyke credits the setting for part of that success.

“When Frank Hart was looking to create a successful cheetah breeding program, he was looking for a really isolated place,” Van Slyke explained. “A lot of people ask ‘why Winston? Why this particular location?’ It is the one location that is almost a mirror image of South Africa, where these guys had another pretty successful cheetah breeding program.”

Safari cheetahs are sent to zoos across the country as part of the Species Survival Program designed to diversify the gene pool. One female sent to St. Louis as part of the Progam gave birth to eight cubs earlier this year. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which the Safari is a member, 430 litters have been born to captive female cheetahs.

Because of the unique opportunities the Safari provides, it has become a much sought after intern destination for those interested in zoo keeping, as well as veterinary students from across the globe. The park provides experiences most wildlife students will not get elsewhere: instead of simply visiting an enclosure, it allows students to “hunt” down animals in order to administer medical aid.

Wildlife Safari is deeply rooted in the local community. Interns are just one element of the volunteer opportunities the park has to offer. From educating visitors, to assisting guests or tending horticulture, hundreds of people throughout Douglas County are able to help build upon the dream Hart began decades ago.

The Safari will also bring their up-close experience out into the community. They make numerous visits to schools, retirement homes, community centers and events throughout the year to provide educational encounters for all ages.

“It’s really cool to see an animal,” Schlueter said. “But it’s totally different to not just see a bear behind glass, but to come out and feed a bear. It’s a totally different experience that is truly once in a life time.”

Erica Welch is a community reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ewelch@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4218.

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Community Reporter

Erica Welch is a community reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ewelch@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4218.

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