A wildlife safari close to home

A wildlife safari close to home

Ever felt like taking a drive to hobnob with giraffes, watch a pride of lions feast on a nightly meal or perhaps assist a portly elephant with his daily bathing ritual after taking a ride on his back?

Wildlife Safari in Winston offers all that and more. The Pacific Northwest's only "drive-through" animal exhibit is a novelty of sorts, but educational and engaging all at the same time.

Six miles south of Roseburg, the 600-acre park gives the animals that live there a chance to live in habitats as close as possible to those they'd find in the wild. A winding trail meanders through grassland and wooded areas giving visitors a chance to see it all up close. The drive through time is about 1 1/2 hours.

A safari from the comfort of your own car — all types except for convertibles — the park is divided into three continent-themed regions.

Witness the daily life of bison, brown and black bear, elk, black-tailed deer and bald eagles in the Americas.

Head to the African region and cruise past elephants, zebras and hippos or gaze right out your car window at ostriches taller than most compact cars. A park favorite, cheetah pair Lexus and Missy welcomed four new cubs on April 8 this year.

A sprawling Asian section features camels, emus, cranes, Tibetan yaks and majestic Siberian tigers.

Park spokeswoman Michelle Young says the drive itself is unlike any other. "None of this is anything you're likely to see anyplace else, all in one trip," says Young. "It's an exciting chance to see some exotic animals and see how they really live."

With feeding times happening morning and night, and warm summer months keeping animals from wandering much at midday, Young says the best time to come is early morning or late afternoon. Park admission includes a free second trip through the compound, encouraging visitors to take a morning and afternoon cruise for a look at the best variety of park inhabitants.

For those hours in between the drive-through portion of the park, a village area offers shopping, dining and a host of interactive shows including "Home Sweet Home" and "Scoop on Poop."

Elephant and train rides cost slightly extra, but offer a different point of view and are available most days of the week.

For a customized experience, the park offers catered encounters where visitors can get up close and personal to feed, wash or walk with an exotic animal.

An elephant encounter includes a meet and greet with the park's largest residents and the chance to feed and/or bathe the animals. For a bit more on the physical side of things, enjoy an elephant trek, walking a stretch of the park usually only viewed by vehicle.

Lion feedings take place near closing time, giving visitors a chance to be close to the mighty cats as they devour their nightly rations. A cheetah encounter includes a stroll with a baby cheetah and her Anatolian shepard companion and insight as to how dogs are used in Africa to protect the wild cheetah population.

For a giraffe encounter, ride to "Africa" in an open-air truck, meet the giraffe family and feed them tasty treats. A more extensive experience, tag along for a half-day with a park ranger to get an inside look at the way the park is run.

As for accommodations, the park is a mere hour-and-a-half from Medford, making for an easy day trip. Camping fans can create a weekend getaway, pitching a tent or parking an RV for around $8 to $10.

Whether a quick drive-through while traveling I-5, or a weekend of exotic animal encounters, the Pacific Northwest's only drive-through exotic animal encounter, with roaring lions and bathing elephants just a car window away, is certainly worth paying a visit.

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