Canada's original drive-through Wildlife Park where animals roam free and visitors remain "caged" in buses and vehicles, is celebrating its 45th birthday as a park dedicated to the conservation of declining wildlife species. The park is home to 1,000 animals and birds of declining wildlife species.
Since opening in 1969, it has bred over 20 species that are considered endangered and 30 that are listed as threatened. In May of 2014, African Lion Safari became
the first park in Canada to have the first
Rothschild giraffe born by artificial insemination. This giraffe is classified as an endangered species with less than 1100 in the wild.
My 14-year-old granddaughter, Megan, and I recently visited this 311 hectare (750 acre) park set in an unspoiled rural area on the outskirts of Hamilton. It was a special time for both of us.
You can drive to this park from May to October 13th for a fee of $32.95 for adults or $25.95 for a child 3-12 years of age - in your own vehicle along a nine-kilometre road that winds through seven game reserves. For an additional $4.95 adult or $4.75 child (3-12 years), you can take an air-conditioned and narrated Safari Bus tour. The park opens daily at 10:00 am and closes at 4pm Monday to Friday. On Saturdays, Sunday and Holidays the park remains open until 5pm.
Megan and I were visiting for something even more special. We arrived at 8:30 am, before the park opened to the public, to experience a new happening at the park. The Wake up the Wild program offers visitors a wildlife tour behind the scenes of the park.
With a small group of 10 people we headed out in a van with our game warden guide, Heather Wilson, to see what happens before the public arrives. It didn't take us long to realize Heather, a University graduate in Zoology and a 5-year veteran at the park, really knew her stuff. When we first entered through a double security gate, and we noticed a sign "Trespassers Will be Eaten," we knew we were in for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
The Game Wardens gripping narrative had us spellbound. The first animals we saw and heard were the African lions. They roamed freely in a wide open game reserve under a clear blue sky. When I squinted hard, it resembled a small scrap of the
The lions were eating their breakfast of raw meat. The primitiveness of nature hit me square in the face. Heather explained, "Most lions live 10 years in the wild, but many of the lions at the park have been here for the past 25 years. We've bred over 20 species of lions, and many are considered endangered."
Wildlife animals that fascinated us were the extremely rare white African lions,
cheetahs (fastest land animal in the world, reaching a speed of 145 kilometres per hour), zebra (we learned that
zebras are white with black stripes, not the other way around),
Indian rhino, and many more.
When we transferred from the van to a special off-road, open-air truck, we got up close and personal to a number of hoofed animals. One of Megan's favourites was the Rothschild giraffe. Megan, who wants to be a veterinarian, even had the chance to feed the giraffe. How great is that? When I asked my granddaughter what she thought of the morning adventure, she said, "It was one of the coolest things I've ever done. I also liked that there were no aquatic animals at the park."
At the end of our 2-hour personal tour, we were treated to a gourmet (really) breakfast on an open-air picnic table. It was the beginning of a perfect day.
African Lion Safari
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.