Jan 13, 2010

Out of Africa Wildlife Park

My family and I had the pleasure of taking a day trip to Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, AZ this past weekend. I say pleasure because it was one of the best "zoos" I have ever been to. For me, the zoo typically means pushing around a stroller and holding up a heavy 3 year old to see all the way to the back of the enclosure for about 6 hours. Here, we parked our stroller and our 3 year old actually thought the animals were too close to her!

The photos you see on their website are actually photos that I could have taken myself, and these photos here, I really did take myself with my basic little digital camera, no fancy zoom lens or anything. You are within feet of the animals and they are all very visible thanks to the way the enclosures are set up. The park houses all types of animals from lions, tigers, and other cats, bears, giraffes, zebras, and ostrich, to a rhinoceros named Boom Boom whom we happened across on our way out of the park. There was something strange and funny about rounding a corner to see a rhino sleeping under a desert tree fenced in by nothing more than concrete traffic barricades.

Upon our entrance to the park, we caught the outgoing safari ride and were handed carrot sticks as we got on - then were told not to eat them. Our very first stop down the dirt road was at the giraffe's enclosure where he eagerly awaited the bus and our carrot sticks. The driver gave everyone sufficient time to take photos and feed the giraffe. Some unsuspecting passengers got a friendly lick on the face from the giraffe when we ran out of carrots too! We ventured on into a gated area where zebra, ostrich, more giraffe and lots of other animals roamed free. The tour guide was wonderful at explaining all about the animals and bringing them right up to the bus (with some treats) for some great photos.

At the end of our safari, our driver dropped us off at the top of the hill just in time for the Tiger Splash show. In the show a few brave staff members and two very large tigers jump and play in the water with inflatable pool toys, which the tigers joyously pop. One of the owners of the park narrated the show and stressed that they animals are not trained but that they work on a relationship basis with them. For example, to get a toy from one of the tigers, they offer something else in return. The tiger would give up the toy for, in this case, a piece of meat. There were no signs or spoken commands to any of the animals.

After the show, we grabbed a bite to eat from the burger stand then checked out and pet the boa constrictor during the Giant Snake Show. The handler did not carry around the snake to everyone, for one because it was about 15 feet long, but rather she opened the gate to the show arena and let anyone come in that wanted to check out the snake.

We wandered around and in most cases had the animals all to ourselves since the park was not crowded at all. It was so strange to stand 4 feet from two bears who sat looking straight at you, or a tiger who walked over to see what you were doing. We stayed for the Wonders of Wildlife show which on that day was the grizzly bears. At the end of the show, we happened to see the two founders, Dean and Prayeri, sitting watching the show as well. We stopped to tell them what a fantastic park they had created and ended up talking to them for over an hour. They are wonderful caring people who care about the animals as well as their staff and community.

Where: Out of Africa Park, Camp Verde, AZ (~60 mi north of Scottsdale)
When you get there, turn right before the court building and follow the road until it becomes dirt. We found out they are having a problem with the transportation department allowing them to post permanent signage.

When: Daily 9:30am-5pm

Price: $36 adults, $28 seniors, $20 kids 3-12 (under 3 free)
(Yes, it is a little pricey but worth it. There are reduced AZ resident rates as of right now, and coupons are available on their website, and check entertainment books and brochures for coupons too)

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