Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving Day 4: Global Wildlife

So how do you follow up a big Thanksgiving Day family get together? By going to feed a bunch of wild animals, of course. On Friday, we gathered up the girls and all headed off to Global Wildlife Center in Folsum. Evelin and I went one Boxing Day years ago, but we thought it would be fun for all of us, especially Celeste and her cousins.

Basically, Global Wildlife is more than 900 acres of forest and plains that's home to some 3,000+ animals, including bison, giraffes, zebras, camels, kangaroos, antelopes, and other grasslands animals. You ride through the park on a tractor-pulled wagon/tram, which stops periodically to let people feed alfalfa pellets to the animals. According to the center's staff, they didn't loose any animals during Hurricane Katrina, although several hundred trees were downed; for the most part, the animals just huddled in big mixed-species packs and weathered out the rain and winds.

We got there a little before 10:00 a.m. for the first safari tour of the day, got our tickets, and a big bucket of pellets. Since the center was closed on Thursday for the holiday, the animals were eager to crowd the wagons as soon as they left the basecamp.

The first group was mostly longhorn cattle (Bos taurus (one of whom's horns was getting way too close for comfort), bison (Bison bison), elands (Taurotragus oryx), a zebu (Bos indicus), at least one beefalo (Bos taurus × Bison bison), and several varieties of deer (family Cervidae). The cattle and bison were not shy about sticking their heads in to the wagon to have feed poured into their mouths; A-- got licked by one cow.

We eventually pushed on, past the pens where newly arrived animals were in quarantine and past the kangaroo pen (I'm not sure why they don't mix with the general population, but the kangaroos, mostly red kangas (Macropus rufus), if I remember correctly, are kept in their own enclosure). We then started seeing more deer and antelope. We also saw a pair of Bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus) who were happy to get close enough for some food.

Through most of this, Celeste was pretty happy. She may have tried to pet one or two of the animals, but mostly she just wanted to sit and soak it all in. A--- and L--- were getting pretty excited with dumping food out to the animals. All three girls enjoyed pouring the alfalfa pellets on to the floor of the tram, too.

Up next were the big draw — reticulated giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)). They have a small family group — the male, Slim; the female, Kameel; and the baby, Seemore Freckles — and they aren't shy about sticking their heads into the wagons for some pellets. Last time Evelin and I went to Global Wildlife, Seemore was just a yearling; now he's still young, but getting bigger. Evelin and Celeste were in perfect position to have Kameel get very up close and personal with them, which both of them liked. Evelin got to touch the giraffe; I don't think Celeste did, however. I was on the other side of the tram taking pictures, so I don't know for sure, but I'd bet Celeste was making her blowing kisses noise, which is what she claims a giraffe says.

Celeste & EvelinCeleste spies a blackbuckCeleste & Evelin Feed Kameel

Seemore ended the feeding stop by doing some running and jousting with the various deer and antelope, sending a group of them scattering as he ran through the brush. As the tram continued, we saw more and more antelopes and deer, including some blackbucks (Antilope cervicapra) and Père David's deer (Elaphurus davidianu), as well as some llamas (Lama glama) and two dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius).

Then we came to big draw number two — the Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi) herd. Because they bite, the tourguide asked us to only drop food to the ground for the zebras and not to try to touch or feed them directly. L--- was very happy to dump food over the side.

As we headed away from the zebras and back to the basecamp, the only downside to a 10:00 safari became apparent ... too close to naptime. Celeste, A---, L--- and a 20-month-old* who was also on our tram were all getting very grumpy. We had a few snacks (which was against the rules) that the girls could munch on, which helped a little, but they were all getting tired and ready to head home.

*The little girl and her mother were evacuees from Mississippi. Apparently they'd been coming to Global Wildlife just about every weekend since Katrina forced them from their homes ...

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