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After Tiger Splash, it was on to the Giant Snake Show where a 12.5-foot-long, 109-pound Burmese python by the name of Gracie sunbathed while children of all ages stroke her skin. Gracie was a “guard snake” in a drug house, and her eyes are permanently cloudy after being exposed to meth. Then it was time for the predator feed, which takes place every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday at 3 p.m. A flatbed truck filled with 800 pounds of raw meat circles the park, and the animals come to life as feeding time approaches. Jaguars and black panthers pace their enclosures and lions become vocal. It’s the best time to photograph the animals up close and in action if you can stomach some of the raw food tossed into the enclosures. (Many of the enclosures at Out of Africa have been designed with platforms that allow you to photograph the animals without obstruction – a bonus.)
For access to the African Bush areas, you’ll board one of the safari trucks, which depart several times throughout the day. The safari lasts about 45 minutes. You’ll traverse 44 acres and see giraffes, zebras, ostriches and other animals (you might even get a kiss from a giraffe). From their homes on hills surrounding the bush areas, lions look down on the action. Other shows and attractions include the Creature Feature where guests can touch small mammals, reptiles and birds, and Wonders of Wildlife in which caretakers interact with animals. The park is easily walked but hilly, so there are free trams that make multiple stops for those who’d rather not walk.
Out of Africa has a wild feel. Unlike landmarks such as the San Diego Zoo or even the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, the surroundings are not landscaped and have been left in a natural, chaparral-covered state. Sedona’s red rocks and Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks are visible from the park, and the blue sky stretches endlessly. And don’t expect lavish restaurants or a plethora of themed gift shops at every turn. There’s a gift shop, and stands where you can grab a bite to eat are scattered throughout the park, but while Dean and Prayeri have made Out of Africa comfortable for visitors, it’s a habitat for the hundreds of animals that call the park home.
Out of Africa Wildlife Park is located on Cherry Road off SR 260 in Camp Verde. Open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (The admission office closes at 4 p.m.) Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Admission is $36 for adults, $34 for seniors, $20 for children 12 and younger, and free for children 2 and younger. For more information and a schedule of shows, call 928-567-2840 or visit www.outofafricapark.com.
Grand Canyon Deer Farm & Petting Zoo
For more than 41 years, travelers along Interstate 40 have been pulling off at exit 171 to visit the unassuming Grand Canyon Deer Farm & Petting Zoo. For the past 23 years, Randy and Pat George have owned the farm. We admit it: After traveling and living in northern Arizona for more than 10 years, we’d never visited the farm, though the highway signs always elicited curious comments in the car. Our curiosity was satiated when Randy himself took us on a tour of the 10-acre property one windy afternoon.
Randy says the farm’s original owner had owned a zoo in northern California before opening up the northern Arizona attraction. Randy and his wife, Pat, had visited the farm several times, including on their honeymoon. When they heard the farm was for sale, they moved north from Phoenix and purchased it in March 1987, though they had no experience running a zoo. Randy’s background was in computer manufacturing and Pat worked for UPS. (The Georges are the farm’s third owners.) Since then, the farm has expanded to include much more than just deer.
During our visit, fallow, sika and axis deer greeted us at the farm’s entrance, located behind a large and well-stocked gift shop. The deer patiently followed us around the farm during our entire visit. Most of the deer are born and raised at the farm while other animals are purchased from breeders. We were introduced to reindeer, elk, pygmy goats, camels, buffalo, miniature donkeys and horses, and llamas. Randy says in addition to the 100 deer (60 greet you when you first walk into the farm), the farm is home to 40 other animals. It’s not surprising to meet a potbellied pig or even the miniature zebu cow, but we did a double take at the coatimundi – members of the raccoon family – and the baby wallabies (Bindy and Chloe). The tiny South American marmoset, a monkey that weighs less than one pound, might have been the most unique resident, though Randy says Mozart and Sparky, a cockatoo and a parrot, receive the most attention. Perhaps that’s because Mozart gamely asks, “Polly want a cracker?” when prompted. Pat says Mozart was the first animal she purchased after taking over the farm in 1987. It took an entire year to get him to talk. “He’s been adding words ever since,” she says.