Anyone who has gone on a safari will tell you that it’s an unbeatable experience and in many ways an exciting one too. If you’re a nature lover then it’s all the more satisfying.
Usually on a trip to an animal sanctuary or safari we wait for a glimpse of freely walking animals and yearn to capture them in our cameras.
I remember a long time ago we had been to a wild life Sanctuary in Bandipur near Mysore. After waiting for hours we had a glimpse of just an elephant and of course a few spotted deer. This is common in most of the sanctuaries because the habitat is made as natural as possible and the animal is usually hidden behind all the foliage that is artificially created for this purpose.
This is why I found this particular sanctuary so very different. The sanctuary is situated in Virginia and is called the Virginia Safari Park. One can get to see the animals’ real close up just like in a zoo, only differences being the animals are not behind bars.
You can tell the animals prefer this setting to a zoo any day and why not? Here they can run with abandon and some of them even block your path as you walk along. A very unique place indeed.
The Virginia Safari Park is about 3 hours 30 minutes drive from the DC area in Washington and is situated in the Shenandoah Valley. The setting is very natural and peaceful and the visitors who come get an opportunity to have an unrestricted view of the animals and fully appreciate them in their natural habitat. Visitors are also allowed to feed them with grains provided by the Park.
As visitors drive the 3 miles through the beautiful Shenandoah Valley country side, they get to see a number of animals approaching their vehicles with a natural curiosity that is found in all animals.
The first animal which approached our vehicle was the Llama, a South American animal which was used 100 years ago as a beast of burden and source of meat.
Next on the list was the Watusi, which is also know as the ‘cattle of the kings’ because of its long horns. The name Watusi is the name of an African tribe that dates back at least 6000 years. The horns of the Watusi are used as a cooling device .
Vietnamese Pot-Bellied pig
Then came a very short and plump Vietnamese Pot-Bellied pig, very short in nature and it seemed to me as if it was dragging its belly and walking 🙂 I have also read that when indoors, this creature can be very destructive in nature.
Next, came a bird which was about 5 feet in height. It came near our car and started pecking the window without the least bit of fear. This we learnt was the Rhea, the fourth largest flightless bird in the world.
Rocky Mountain Elk
As we drove further down, we were greeted by a Rocky Mountain Elk. Greeted wouldn’t really be right as it was blocking our way in an outstanding pose. It’s antlers were imposing yet beautiful. The Mountain Elk is a native of the US and Canada. It seemed to be a good jumper too.
Scimiter Horned Oryx
Later we saw a herd of Scimiter Horned Oryx grazing in the shade and relaxing away from the road. The Oryx are native to North Africa and are on the list of the world’s most endangered animals. On the opposite side we also noticed another kind of Oryx known as the Beisa Oryx. There was a whole herd of them grazing peacefully. This Oryx have striking black stripes and are originally from East Africa.
As our vehicle took a sharp turn we caught a quick glimpse of a Black Buck, running around in circles at amazing speed. Before we could stop for a closer look it had vanished into the deep forest.
White Bearded Wildbeast
As we drove deeper into the forest we came across many more animals. There was a herd of White Bearded Wildbeast which is also known as Gnu and is a native of Africa, the Eland (also native of Africa), Nilgai (India), Pere David Deer (China), Axis Deer (India) and Silka Deer (Japan).
We caught a fascinating glimpse of the fierce looking Yak, a wild ox, native of the Northern Himalayas standing in a distance. Its horns made me wonder what would happen if the Yak decided to charge towards any of the visitors. It was a scary thought.
Later, we came to a complete stop where the Dromedary Camel was grazing and enjoying its food, completely unconcerned that it was blocking all those cars. We took this opportunity to study the camel at leisure. After it finally decided to move, a Big Bison walked towards the visitors as if to say "Hey its my turn to get some attention now." It came right up to our window and popped its head inside; its face was so huge it really sent those shivers up my spine.
A little further up four Bactrian Camels were standing in a pose as if encouraging us to click their picture. The Bactrian is native of China and is famously known for having two humps on its back, differentiating it from the more common camel that we all know.
Swamp Water Buffalo
As we passed the camels we saw the beautiful striped Zebras, the Swamp Water Buffaloes and the Emu. Finally, we were caught in the moment when we saw the Ostrich, the largest flightless bird and the only two-toed bird standing at the exit. Maybe it was trying to tell us it was too early to leave?
The Virginia Safari Park also has a Giraffe feeding station where people are allowed to feed the giraffes. There is also a Safari village where Monkeys and Turtles are kept.
The experience of watching these animals from close quarters was really unique. Virginia Safari Park or any Safari drive for that matter, is definitely a place to be visited by all those who love nature and animals.
Author: Rosanne DSouza- USA