This Emu says “Feed me!” (Photo: The Gentle Barn)
It’s understood that the “Please do not feed animals!” signage in most parks and reserves is there for our safety/the safety of animals/other responsible reasons. But it also puts a damper on things. Human nature dictates, if you want to be friends with another being, you offer them refreshment. It’s instinct. And good manners.
Which is why it’s so nice to find that in a few animal rescues, preserves, and sanctuaries, you can feed the wildlife and feel good about it … while getting awesome Instagram pictures.
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The most exotic animals in the world are probably those indigenous to Australia and nearby islands, which is somewhat disheartening because that’s halfway around the world. But hey, once you’re there, you can feed wallabies and wombats, “play tug-of-war” with Tasmanian devils, and even say hello to a teeny-weeny rescued echidna. Actually, you can do ALL of this in the same place: the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania. This place is a haven for nearly extinct native species.
A cheeky wallaby at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary (Photo: Graham Michael Freeman / Tourism Australia)
Wallaby and kangaroo encounters are offered elsewhere in Oz though: at Australia Zoo in Queensland on Kangaroo Island (natch) and at Featherdale Wildlife Park just west of Sydney. Wild wallabies rarely approach humans, but there are exceptions – like this magical moment on Daydream Island.
This wallaby is waiting to say “hi! “(Photo: Daydream Island)
If you want to see animals in the wild, then Africa is doubtlessly on your bucket list. In South Africa, luxurious Camp Jabulani in Limpopo Province stands out for multiple reasons. The camp is located inside a Big Five Reserve, and is a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux hotel and restaurant group. Its “sister company” is Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, a private animal hospital, research and endangered species repopulation facility — which was actually founded first. Finally, it’s the only place in the world to offer night safaris on the back on an elephant. Afterward, guests can help “tuck the elephants in” for their night’s rest, and maybe give them a bedtime snack.
Also tops on the list of animal encounters – and conveniently within the continental U.S. – is San Diego Zoo Safari Park, a 1,800-acre preserve inhabited by more than 300 species of animals, including giraffes, zebras and warthogs. Safari Park’s original purpose was as a breeding facility, with a strong focus on conservation of endangered species. They have perhaps the world’s most successful captive rhino breeding program. The highlight of a Caravan Safari in the park is a chance to pet and feed giraffes and maybe even baby rhinos.
Sometimes you just have to stop and feed the rhinos (Photo: San Diego Zoological Society)
Exotic animals get tons of attention, but far fewer people look out for the well-being of common farm animals right in their own backyards. Places like The Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita (Southern California, just north of LA) take on the role of ambassador between overlooked domestic farm animals and humans. They rescue and rehabilitate farm animals that have been abused and/or abandoned, teach compassion for animals of all sorts, and run animal interaction programs for children (school groups, at-risk youth programs, special needs). The Gentle Barn is open to the public every Sunday from 10AM-2PM.
Gentle donkeys at The Gentle Barn in California (Photo: The Gentle Barn)
So grab your SPF-50, your plane ticket, a head of lettuce and a phone-camera, because it’s time to go forth and picnic with the wild kingdom.
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