It has become a ritual for me to take our guests to the African Lion Safari, located in Cambridge, Ontario. I have even lost count on the number of times I have been there. I can for sure claim that I am now an accomplished tour guide for anyone visiting the Safari. When Air Vice Marshal TD Joseph (Joe) and Sophie Joseph came calling in May 2016, how could I omit the African Lion Safari from the itinerary.
African Lion Safari, a family-owned private entrepreneurship, is a picturesque and fun-filled Wildlife Park that offers not only a Safari trip of 9 km, but also conducts educative shows on birds and elephants. This conservation theme-park showcases many different and rare animals from Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The drive through the game reserve will get you as close as you can ever get with fascinating wildlife.
At the Safari, animals are exhibited in an entirely different way – visitors are caged in their cars or tour bus, and the animals are free to roam the 5-to-50-acre reserve, in their natural habitat. The Safari Trail comprises seven game reserves that showcase a diverse collection of species such as lions, cheetahs, baboons, rhinos, ostriches, giraffes, and many other exotic and native species.
In case you take your own car, you are in better control of the time that you spend observing and photographing the animals, and it affords a great deal of flexibility. There is a guided tour on the Safari bus, which takes just over an hour. The tour guides offer great information about the animals you encounter. Visitors who spend a full day at the African Lion Safari, often exercise both options. I prefer the drive in our car and surely there are a few risks involved.
It is worthwhile to note some interesting facts about the founder of this wonderful place. Late Colonel GD Dailley founded the Safari with a vision to create an environment for self-sustaining populations of declining wildlife species. It opened with 40 lions in three reserves in 1969. Today the park houses in excess of 1,000 animals comprised of more than 100 species.
Colonel Gordon Debenham Dailley (July 24, 1911 – May 3, 1989), was born in Winnipeg, Canada and was educated at St John’s College at the University of Manitoba. He was a member of the team which won the gold medal in ice hockey for Great Britain at the 1936 Winter Olympics. The team consisted mostly of British-born Canadian citizens, as well as Dailley, whose only justification for playing for Britain lay in his long years of living in England. He led the team to European Championships in 1937 and 1938, after which he left hockey to join the Canadian Army.
Colonel Dailley served in England throughout World War II. After the war, he remained with the Canadian Forces and held a number of posts in Ottawa and served on the United Nations Armistice Commission in Korea. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1955 and was assigned to Belgrade, Yugoslavia as the Canadian Military Attaché. In August 1960 he was appointed the base commander at Gagetown in New Brunswick. He retired from the army in 1964.
After about an hour’s drive from our home, we generally reach the Safari gates at 9:55 AM, five minutes before the gates open. In order to avoid the rush, it would be better to visit the park on a weekday, that too well before the schools close for summer vacations. This gives all the time to watch and photograph the animals as there is no pressure from the vehicles following.
First reserve is Nairobi Sanctuary which houses elegant birds like the crowned crane and white stork with llamas and robust Watusi cattle from Africa with its large distinctive horns that can reach up to 8 feet.
Next is the Simba Lion Country, home to a large pride of lions, perched on large rocks or in the shade of trees.
If you are lucky, you can capture the lions in such poses too.
There is a separate enclosure for the White Lions. They are same as their African Lion cousins with a rare color mutation. They are found in the Timbavati area of South Africa.
Adjacent to the lion sanctuary is the Duma Cheetah Preserve. African Lion Safari has been very successful with breeding cheetahs, who are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, with over 40 cubs to date.
Most entertaining reserve is Wankie Bushland Trail where you will encounter baboons. This is where the risk of taking your car lies. These baboons have developed special skills to pull at wipers or peel rubber stripping or to simply perch atop the car’s roof and take a ride around their habitat.
Next enclosure is the Rocky Ridge Veldt representing the Savannahs of Africa. It is home to a mix of species from the curious ostrich to the highly endangered Rothschild giraffes, as well as zebras, eland and rhinos.
Ostriches and giraffes come very close to the cars, and this shot of the giraffe saying hello through the moon-roof of our car.
Last reserve takes you to North America which houses animals like elk and the bison
There are also a number of entertaining, educative and informative shows starting with the Elephant Swim. The keepers bring the Asian elephants, all cutely holding the tail of one in front by their trunk. They range from the oldest at 35 to the youngest at two years.
Next show, the ‘Birds of Paradise’ where various birds showcase their incredible intelligence like a crow cleaning up tin cans to put in a blue recycle bin to a macaw deciphering colours, as well as the red-legged Seriemas, a long-legged bird from South America, showing off their natural abilities. The Serena displayed its skill at killing a snake by picking it up and throwing it repeatedly hard on to the ground. They also showcased a wide assortment of birds like macaws, emu, an Indian bat, peacock and ended the show with a talking and singing parrot.
The next is another great show, the ‘Birds of Prey’. The flying and hunting skills predator birds are on display here. The birds include marabou stork, a bald and golden eagle, a couple of owls and peregrine falcon ,the fastest moving creature in the animal kingdom.
Elephant Round-Up show is a display of elephant’s impressive strength, agility and intelligence. One even paints a t-shirt in the show, holding the paint brush in its trunk. It was heartening to see that not even once was an elephant shouted at or goaded with a pointed metal rod as seen in some parts of Asia. African Lion Safari is home to the largest Asian elephant herd in any zoological facility in North America and has one of the most successful breeding programme. The Safari announced the birth of Jake in 2009, a healthy male calf, through artificial insemination, the first ever in Canada.
African Queen boat cruise piloted by one of the parks guides, circles a lake to see exotic birds, primates, ring-tailed lemurs, ground hornbills, spider monkeys, black and white ruffed lemur and endangered Angolan Colombus monkeys that reside on the islands.
The shows were conducted mostly by university students, many pursuing their degrees in zoology related fields. What an opportunity and environment for these students to earn, learn and apply their knowledge and also improve their confidence levels, communication skills and self-esteem?
How do these animals, mostly from the tropics, survive through the harsh Canadian winter? The Safari has large barn-like centrally heated housing where the animals can go in and out. As per the Safari staff, the Cheetahs love playing in the snow and enjoy the winters.
Since its inception in 1969, the Park has been successful in breeding 30 species, considered endangered, and 20 species, considered threatened. The original idea of maintaining self-sustaining populations of species in decline is still the Park’s priority, all while providing its visitors with a safe, entertaining, and educational environment.