Tucked away in the North Bay is a gem of a place called Safari West. Safari West is a wildlife preserve nestled in Santa Rosa, CA on a 400 acre ranch. The mammals at Safari West are native to Africa. There are cheetahs, giraffes, lemurs, antelope, ..., you get the picture. There are also a wide variety of exotic birds from all over the world.
Tours at Safari West require reservations and ours was scheduled for 1:00pm. I didn't know what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised by what we experienced. We started the 2 1/2 hour tour with a walk through their aviary where we saw a number of spectacular exotic birds close up. My favorite was the Scarlet Ibis (pictured left). I had never seen a bird that color in my life. There must have been 20 different species of birds in there, all with their own unique flair.
Leaving the aviary behind, we ventured towards the cheetahs. On our way there, we stopped to look at some antelope in a nearby field. This was very close to a zoo setting and I was a bit surprised to not see these creatures running around the expansive 400 acres of the rest of the park. They did have a newborn with them and little guy sure was cute. Of course, the cheetah area was right next to them and for some reason, one of the cheetahs decided to make its presence known and the antelope instinctively started running. They were safe, if not a bit shook up. It must be tough on the cheetahs though. We moved on to the cheetah area. There are four cheetahs in the park, but they are kept separate.
It was amazing being up close to the sleek beast. We moved on to a few more exhibits, all of which were very similar to a zoo experience. Not what I was expecting, but I knew there was more to come. We saw lemurs, howler monkeys, foxes and several more exotic birds (Sarus Crane pictured on the left).
We finished up the walking portion of the tour and then our guide, Robert, pointed to one of the safari vehicles and motioned for us to get in. There were four seats at the very top and everyone wanted up there. The four young boys went first, one of which was my son Ronald. I can tell you he won't forget that seat for a long time! The first animals we encountered were the giraffes. I had heard they had a new born calf that was just three weeks old. We circled around the giraffes area and came up to a gate. Robert got out, opened the gate and took us through. Now we were really starting our adventure! We didn't go too far before the jeep stopped right next to a small herd of giraffes. There was still a fence separating us from them, but that didn't prevent us from having a very close encounter. One of the giraffes, a male, made straight for the boys sitting on the top of the jeep. Another, a female with spittle dripping from its mouth made straight for my wife! There were howls of shock and glee as these magnificent beasts came towards us. Fortunately, my wife was protected by the roof of the vehicle and managed to stay mostly dry. That was not the case for my son. The big guy decided to make his presence known and chew a little on my son's seatbelt. Robert offered to photograph this event for me since we were not allowed out of the jeep. Robert got some great shots and it was the perfect start to the safari portion of the trip.
The jeep continued on and we passed through four other areas. Each with a variety of animal, too many to list but I will try. We saw magnificent Impalas and stunning East African Crowned Cranes, Springbok Antelopes, White Rhinos, Gazelles, Impalas, zebras, Bongos, Cape Buffalo (very dangerous, just search YouTube), Wildebeest and a rare sighting of a Gemsbok (pictured to the left). Our guide commented to me that our group was able to see a good percentage of the animals out there.
One of my personal favorites was my own close encounter with an Ostrich. They are not the brightest, nor prettiest, but I was fascinated as one approached me. It kept coming closer and closer right towards me. It finally stopped within just a few inches of my camera lens. I think this was making our guide a bit nervous and he decided it was time to move on.
I truly enjoyed our time at Safari West and know I will be back there in the future. I was surprised at how "up close and personal" we were able to get to these awesome creatures. For more information about Safari West, checkout their web site: www.safariwest.com (I am in no way affiliated with Safari West, just a very satisfied customer!)
See more photos from this trip here.