Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Students take a walk on the wild side at Virginia Safari Park

On a return trip to Blacksburg from his native Oman, Said Alkindi took note of a billboard alongside Interstate 81 advertising the Virginia Safari Park. Said suggested the park as a possible activity for Summer I, and we are all glad he did. What an adventure, and only a little over an hour away from Blacksburg!

En route, we went on Routes 460/11 to Elliston in order to see a glimpse of Montgomery County beyond the interstate. Of special note are Bent Tree Farm, which raises and shows Friesian and Saddlebred horses, the Elliston Straightaway, and Fotheringay Plantation. The Straightaway in years past had been used as a drag strip for locals wanting to “show what their cars could do,” a country version of "The Fast and Furious." Fotheringay Plantation was built about 1796 by Revolutionary War Col. George Hancock. Col. Hancock’s daughter Julia married William Clark, who was co-leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to map the West. Col. Hancock, upon his death, was buried in a crypt in the mountainside in order to maintain oversight of his plantation.

When we arrived at the park, there was a long line of vehicles ahead of us. The staff was very kind as we each paid our admission one-by-one while still in the van. After parking, we headed to the petting area to await our 1 o’clock wagon ride. The miniature goats with their kids attracted our attention immediately. They scampered up to the fence seeking gentle pats on the head. After we tore ourselves away, we meandered to the reptile habitat and were thankful the large snakes were safely behind thick glass.

As we walked toward the monkey habitats, a staff member stopped and introduced us to Xavier, a baby lemur who had been abandoned by his parents. She told us about his natural habitat, his physical features, and how staff members were filling in as substitute parents. Even though we were not allowed to touch Xavier -- it may not have been wise because he was nibbling on the staffer’s fingers -- we were able to get a picture with him.

Xavier the lemur
When the time came for our wagon ride, we boarded and then received a bucket of feed from our guide. The main adventure had begun.

Our first feeding stop included llamas, a variety of deer, and Watusi cattle from Africa whose horns can span up to 10 feet. It was amazing to be able to touch all of the animals and feel the horns of the Watusi. Unfortunately, the potbellied pigs and some of the smaller deer species (fallow deer from Europe and Asia, axis deer from India, and others) were not tall enough to reach the bed of the wagon to lick up feed from the floor or to eat from the buckets we were holding. Even the fierce-looking water buffalo were willing to have their heads rubbed as we fed them.

We continued to travel along the road crisscrossing the 180-acre preserve while stopping periodically to feed other animals and view ostriches, emus, antelope, bison (yes, we even fed and touched bison; they open their mouths, curl their tongues and eat the pelleted feed we dropped into their mouths), wildebeests, and a variety of other animals from across the globe. Animals such as the white rhinos, zebras, and camels had their own enclosures inside the 180 acres.

After our hourlong wagon ride was over, we had a chance to visit the kangaroos sleeping soundly in the afternoon heat, the parakeet enclosure, and other exotic birds. We also went by the wolves, tigers, and cheetahs and were photobombed by a giraffe.

At Washington and Lee University in Lexington.
Since we were so close to Lexington, we drove over to see the campuses of Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. We took a brief look at the Washington and Lee Museum and saw the grave of the famous war horse Traveler.

By the end of the day, were all tired but smiling, and grateful that Said had recommended the Virginia Safari Park!

-- By Bonnie Sumner

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