September 10, 2012

Out in Africa

Went to the Wilds on a gloriously beautiful late summer day, a safari-park associated with the Columbus Zoo about two hours east of Columbus. There in 10,000 acres of reclaimed strip-mining land roamed all sorts of exotic animals, most of which I'd never seen before nor could pronounce or write their names. We took a 2 1/2 hour open air bus tour after admiring the breathtaking vistas from the visitor's center. It looked like an African savannah, this vast stretch of rolling hills, lakes, trees and bush. It's sort of an Ohio version of Busch Gardens and the couple across from us was visiting from California (surely not just for this safari, but still it seemed impressive to find visitors from so far away).

Some of the animals were endangered species, and especially vivid were the wild Mongolian horses which were never domesticated (and even Genghis Kahn tried). You have to tip your hat with respect to a horse never domesticated. There were lots of species of deer and antelope, odd creatures such as one with horns two feet long that went back instead of up and thus functioned as fine back scratchers (the Scimitar-horned Oryx, native to North Africa). We saw the "Dhole" an endangered canine that looks like a fox on steroids. There were also some familiar animals like giraffes, rhinos, bison and cheetahs. The big cats weighed over a hundred pounds and lay yawning under the shade, their distinctive "tear-drop" black vertical lines under their eyes which helps them cut the glare of the sun. Their story is a fascinating one - they can go from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds - which just seems otherworldly. But the energy draw from just a quarter mile sprint is such that they have to nap after catching their prey and that leaves them vulnerable to other animals stealing their catch. In fact they end up with only about 20% of what they catch! That's the sort of animal story that is almost funny and is hard to make up. It shows the sort of creativity of God's creation. "Let's make an animal that can sprint at 60-70mph but only up to a quarter mile, after which they are exhausted and thus end up inadvertently providing food for other species." If cheetahs didn't exist, we think their story was too far-fetched to be believed: Yeah, right, a little sprint makes them have to take a nap just when dinner is being served.

The Bactrian camels, native to Mongolia, were certainly fine specimens. With those huge humps and hairy manes they were a sight to see. There were also the "desert ghosts", a species of deer I believe, that were the color of sand.

One of the things I liked about the open air safari is that you see animal life not in cages or small fake-looking set-ups, but actually out in a kind of wild (hence the name, "The Wilds", I suppose). Though even the Wilds isn't truly wild of course. There are lots of fences and gates designed to keeping the carnivores from doing what comes naturally. I'm sure the cheetahs don't have occasion to use that 70mph speed, unfortunately, but then neither do I have to catch my food (short of going to the grocery market.) In a sense the Wilds is sort of a hybrid between a zoo and the wilds.

A funny thing was how the tour driver -- who obviously doesn't have a shy bone in her body having worked for 29 years in a male-dominated factory ("You can take it out in trade!" she said when Steph gave me a quarter for feed for the swan and catfish) -- kept saying "material" instead of "sperm" for the male, uh, material. Steph kind of teased her by calling it material with a laugh at one point.)

After the tour we ate dinner out on the overlook. We had the place to ourselves, and it was so quiet there that it really made you feel like where you were - out in the country, far from civilization or roads (like the Indian reservation at the Grand Canyon, they bus you into the "Holy of Holies" so that there's an unearthly silence there, in part due to the lack of car engines).

After eating we headed off to adventure number two, which was kayaking on a lake at AEP's "Re-Creation" land. It's something like 60,000 acres of reclaimed strip-mining land (over 63 million trees were planted with supposedly six hundred lakes). It was getting late, so we had to find a lake fast. "Hook Lake" seemed a likely suspect since it was at a nearby campground. We got there and it proved to be a disappointment, a glorified pond. But I kayaked around it despite the noise of campers cussing every third word from back in the woods.

On the way home we made an emergency stop at Walmart to replace broken wiper blades. Through the magic of technology, we could see via weather radar that there was rain directly ahead, clinging to I-70, so it seemed we could either go to Walmart or have to pull over by the side of the highway when the rains came. We chose the Walmart route, which worked out with a minimum of pain, and technology helped again, by telling us via smart phone exactly where the Zanesville Walmart was.

Not me, but a traveler from California and, in the far distance, one from Africa


Kevin Hammer said...

Have you been to the safari park in Amish country / Holmes county? I was surprised how entertaining it was -- instead of a bus, they take you through woods & pastures on a horse-drawn wagon. Apparently there were no carnivores, as we were not attacked, but the ostriches & others are not shy at all. And you pay a lot more attention to the giant horns on the water buffalo.

TS said...

That sounds pluperfect - thanks for the tip! Just read your comment to my wife and she concurs.