Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

Travelling with Kids – African Lion Safari

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As part of our end of summer vacation, we made the trek to Cambridge to African Lion Safari.  If you live anywhere in Ontario, I’m sure you’ve seen or heard the commercials.  If you don’t, the basic concept is that it’s a zoo where you stay in your car and the animals wander around free.  Really.  There’s some legal disclaimer about how the park isn’t responsible if you take your own vehicle through the paddocks, but it’s that or surrender control to a tour bus driver (the tour bus costs extra).  In your own car/van/whatever you can sit and watch the baboons for half an hour if you want to.  And we did.

Driving into the paddock area reminded me of that little sequence in Jurassic Park, but we had full control over the vehicle and didn’t have tracks to force us along.  Paleoboy and Hot Mom both said the same thing out loud.  And then the adventure began.

Highlights of being in the travelling people exhibit:

  • Sleeping lions up close.  I don’t know that we ever got an accurate count of just how many lions they have there, but you just can’t get that close at a regular zoo.  Which is the whole point.
  • Watching two cheetah stalking an oblivious llama on the other side of a 5 metre fence.  I imagine they’re very well fed, but it’s all about the hunt.  Watch your cat stalking a mouse or a bird.  They don’t need that protein, but every instinct they’ve got screams at them to take down prey
  • Baboons on the roof and hood of the van.  We spent a long time watching the baboon troop.  Fifty, sixty, a hundred of them.  I have no idea.  Ranging in size from housecat to maybe as heavy as my 10 year-old.  If you held still long enough, you’d probably have one or two climb up onto your roof.  Apparently, they enjoy the view from up there.  I think we peaked at three on the van at once.
  • The ostrich who tried to get us to feed him by mimicking eating motions and tapping on the windows with his beak.  Obviously he’s been fed before, and the pop tarts and granola bars the kids were eating looked pretty good.  When we cruelly refused him nourishment, he sniffed and moved on to try the car behind us.
  • A rhino standing in the middle of the road.  Not nearly as big as an elephant, of course, but it gives you the feeling of the immovable object when standing still and the unstoppable force when walking around.  I wonder what it’s like to see a rhino charge in person.
  • Being within arms’ length of a giraffe and, a few seconds later, mother and baby zebra.  I like giraffes.  They’re neat.  I don’t want one as a pet, but I do wonder what they feel and sound and smell like.  I’ve gotten good pictures of them at the Toronto Zoo before, but nothing like the close ups at the Safari.
  • Stuck in the middle of a small herd of Bison.  Hairy, smelly mountains of fur and flesh on every side.  I actually put the van in park and we waited for a few minutes as they grazed around us.  Someone in one of the staff pickups came by and honked their horn repeatedly until the shaggy beasts moved, but it was still neat to watch them rub up against each other and the van.

We sucked every set of camera batteries dry with two of them taking pictures all the time.  The video camera still had some power left at the end, but we used that up on shows with no way to recharge.

It took us about two and a half hours driving to get all the way through.  After a ridiculously expensive fast food lunch (not quite up to Wonderland levels, but bad enough), we considered the park map.  There’s more to things than just the drive through, though that was something we’ll all remember for a long time.

And lest you think that’s all: a small petting zoo, three different shows with one running every half hour, watching the parade of elephants as they went to the river for their evening bath and then watching that bath, a really nice splash pad.  The flat tire wasn’t a black mark at all, more a short break as one parent wanted only half an hour for CAA while the other took the kids to the splash pad.

Final verdict on African Lion Safari: highly recommended.  Experience broadening and memory making, and you can do everything in one day without feeling rushed.  Bring the kids and bring your own food.

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