Wildlife Safari is in Winston, Oregon and is the only drive-through animal park in the state. It covers over 400 acres, is home to over 500 animals, and hosts over 200,000 visitors a year. Margaret and I bought tickets for a close-up cheetah “enrichment encounter” at 11am before we drove through the park.
At the cheetah encounter, everyone stood in a semi-circle and gazed at a cheetah while she had her photo taken with other tourists. The park employees explained that they have one of the top cheetah breeding research centers on Earth. Here in Oregon is the number one cheetah breeding facility outside of Africa & number two in the world. I recalled coming here as a kid on school field trips and for birthday parties. Back then, when you drove through, for fun the cheetahs would run in packs beside the cars, close enough that I would be tempted to reach out and pet them. Today, the big cats are kept behind fences.
After the encounter, we hopped into the Jeep and went through the gate where we were handed a map, then drove into the park. The rules here are to go slowly, stay in your car, and don’t touch the animals. Brochures say, “Where you are captive and they roam free.”
We were absolutely delighted by everything, and surprised how frequently other vehicles passed us because we were going too slowly. We stopped and gawked at every creature we saw, talking to them and laughing.
Some of the enclosures are so huge that fences couldn’t even be seen, and that helped us to imagine these animals really are free. I used the photo of the bear at the top first, to help you understand what it really looks like here. As you gaze across the vast landscape, there are fences and roads and buildings and other cars. I tried to cut those out of most photos.
We also spotted Southern White Rhino, Whitecheek Gibbon primates, Yaks, Watuski cattle, and Gemsbok, but these were too far away for decent photos. Blog photos come from my Nikon, and both of our phones. We grabbed whatever was easiest to use when we spotted an animal. Consequently, you’ll see the poor resolution in some of the phone photos.
Margaret noticed some hippos on a nearby road and insisted we use a staff access road to get to them before they went back underwater. The photos were incredible!
I backed up and returned to our place on the other road before blocking another tourist’s passage, nervous the whole time about authorities telling me I wasn’t allowed to do that. My friend teased me that the Fun Police were going to get me.
Around one curve was a little hut where a staff member answered questions and sold little cups full of animal food. She said for the next mile, we were allowed to feed animals from the car. The animals knew this, and surrounded us.
When the cup of treats was exhausted, we were at the exit, and we parked once more and explored the grounds at the entrance. This is more zoo-like, with smaller cages, a restaurant, gift shop, feed-the-giraffe tours, and the like.
We saw many, many more animals than what I’ve been able to show here. It’s a great place to take the family, or as I’ve just demonstrated, a great place for girlfriends to find hours of fun. A point I’d also like to make is that it’s very inexpensive, compared to similar tourist attractions, and it was explained to me that this is because they are not for profit. All proceeds are merely invested back into the park. It was $19.95 to drive through, and $15 for the special cheetah encounter. Everything in the gift shop was reasonably priced and high quality.