Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park


It was over in less than four seconds. I had just witnessed a cheetah named Shiley chase a mechanical lure attached to its favorite toy down a 100-meter (330-foot) track. As a member of a litter born at the zoo, the trainers soon realized that one of their cubs was being rejected by her mother. At 7 weeks of age, they made the decision to match Shiley with a 6-week-old dog named Yeti. They bonded immediately and are now lifelong friends. Yeti is the reason the zoo is able to allow the only cheetah in captivity to run unrestrained down a track viewed by humans. The zoo was granted this special permit by the federal government because Shiley presents no danger to people. Growing up together has allowed Shiley to pick up on Yeti’s body language that tells her to have no fear of humans.

Raised side by side with her 120-pound companion Anatolian shepherd dog, Shiley spends her days entertaining the crowds at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. She spends her nights cuddled alongside Yeti. Yes, they are bedmates. In the domestic world of dogs and cats, for the most part they are considered enemies as opposed to friends. In the Safari Park world, the opposite is true. Because the dog is the dominant of the two, Yeti’s job in life is to serve as the protector of Shiley. In the wild, the cheetah’s protection is their speed. They may be the fastest mammal on the planet, but as a species they are one of the weaker animals and are considered prey. Therefore it is necessary for their survival to outrun their predators.

We had gathered near the fenced-off track anxiously awaiting the Cheetah Run and we were not to be disappointed. Yeti was the first to run the track. By doing so she was showing Shiley there was nothing to fear from the crowd of humans who had gathered to watch this spectacular dash. By the time Shiley had taken her third step, she had already reached 40 miles per hour. Moments later she was at her top speed of an incredible 70 mph. She sped by us literally as a blur.

Although the Cheetah Run may have been the most impressive show of the day, it was far from the only one. The ride on the African Tram took us on a journey that allowed us to envision animals in a setting that as best as possible replicated a natural setting in the wilds of Africa. The huge 1,800-acre park allowed enough space for antelope and armadillos, cheetahs and crocodiles, elephants and emus, giraffes, wildebeests, rhinos, lions and zebras to coexist along with many species of African birds, flora and fauna, and even imported native African grass for the animals to graze. Naturally, predator and prey lived in separated areas or soon the zoo would basically be known as the home of the Lion King.

Part of the park is dedicated to the native environment known as Coastal California Desert. Due to development and the encroachment of humans, this native environment is becoming rapidly depleted. Only 10 percent of the original Coastal Desert remains.

I watched overhead as two California turkey buzzards soared high in the sky. I reflected on the tour guide’s observation that there now are approximately 3 billion birds left on the planet. That is less than half of the number of humans living today. When our European ancestors first settled America, there were over a billion passenger pigeons on the continent. They could darken the noonday sky and take hours to pass through an area. In less time than was ever imaginable, the last passenger pigeon was blasted into oblivion.

As humans, we have a tremendous impact on the world in which we live. A journey to the San Diego Safari Zoo gives me hope that as caretakers of the environment, we humans are certainly becoming more aware of our responsibility to the earth. Actions speak louder than words and for many environmental issues now is the time to not only speak out, but to put our “money where our mouth is” and act.


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