I never cease to be amazed by the vast array of creatures that populate our planet. The creativity of nature is evident in every species, and to see them up close and interact with them is a treat that fills me with pure joy.
When I was growing up, my parents sometimes took me to a drive-through wildlife park. The park staff handed us huge buckets of animal food to dole out to the free-range animals as we encountered them on our drive. I remember being wide-eyed with both terror and excitement as a buffalo stuck its entire head through the car window to partake of my food bucket. He was an impressive beast, and he left a lasting impression in my childhood memory.
This past weekend the hubs and I along with the in-laws ventured to a nonprofit wildlife reserve spanning 1800 acres featuring a 9-mile drive-through park. I felt giddy sitting in the back seat of the truck with my hubs holding a bag of food pellets, thinking of the times I had visited similar places as a kid. We drove through the entry gates and started our adventure.
Immediately we could see deer and wildebeests wandering the open range and we watched them in awe. I scrambled into K’s lap eager to see the animals on his side of the truck. I leaned over him and out the window to take photos, but as we circled around deeper into the park, we encountered a slight roadblock. K said, “It’s a velociraptor.” and I leaned back away from the window.
Two emus stood in the middle of the path, their long legs and toes reminding K of a Jurassic Park predator. Their wild amber eyes, feathered scowl, and wide pointy beaks didn’t make them appear any less intimidating. They peered in at us through the windows we had rolled up in our nervousness, but they were incredible to watch as they displayed their curiosity towards us as we squeaked past them.
I’ve seen deer before in the wild, but it’s a rare treat to get so close them. Along with young bucks and does were sweet little babies, watching with hopeful eyes as we approached. The variance in their colors and patterns and shapes made each one unique, and I wished the park let us dole out more food treats to these small furry creatures with stick legs and soft faces.
The horns of these creatures were astounding. Some were long and curved, others wavy and thin, some thick and curled, others like tree branches growing out of the tops of the animal’s head, like the fallow deer, which is similar to an elk. The bravado of their antlers balanced with their calm temperament as they patiently waited at the edges of the road for us to drive up to them and give them food. We laughed noting this was like a reverse drive-thru, them waiting and us driving through to bring them something to eat. I locked eyes with an elk as I gave him some food and wished we could be forever friends.
As we came around the next corner, the graceful saunter of the giraffes brought us to a stop. They stretched their long necks to reach to tastiest leaves jutting from the treetops and then moved towards us with ease, their heads disappearing over the top of our truck, too tall for us to see. One leaned its head down towards our window and ate the food out of our palms before moving on down the road. We watched them in awe and eventually pulled ourselves away to continue on our adventure.
As we drove towards the end of the park, we came upon a jumble of zebras. They turned out to be the comedians of the place, leaning in through the car windows and opening their mouths wide to say, “Food please! Just toss it in my mouth!” They were incredible with their straightforwardness and their iconic stripes.
We ended the trip as we started it, with a scary bird encounter. An ostrich set us in its sights and headed straight for us. It greeted us by pecking at the front of our truck and then peered in anxiously through our windows, pecking the top of the truck a few times as well. We agreed he was there to make sure no animal food left the park. He was going to make sure he got the last of it! K bravely rolled down the window just enough to toss out the rest of the food. The ostrich gobbled it up and strolled down the road towards the next victim.
No matter how many animal encounters I experience, I always find myself in a state of wonderment at all the different types of creatures that occupy the earth and the uniqueness of each one. It reminds me that we aren’t the only animals living out our lives as best we can and renews my respect and love for nature and all the animals it encompasses.