I was very curious about going to this place because I had heard very mixed reviews from “This is my favorite zoo and I’ll never go to another one again!” to “You should never go to this place and it should be shut down.” So, I did a little research and headed down a few weekends ago. Here is what I discovered and my opinions from the visit.
What it is: Aloha Safari Park is a zoo near Sanford, about an hour away from us in Durham. They have a variety of animals as well as a safari ride through the zoo. They have rescued all of their animals, so not all of their animals are in perfect conditions, but they have come to the safari park to live out the rest of their lives.
When we arrived, it was about 11 in the morning and clearly a busy day at the zoo and the parking lot was getting full. We paid at the little booth at the entrance and added a safari ride (which is only available on Saturday and Sunday) and some food to feed the animals with the admission. I was a little curious about the fact that they had given me popcorn and sandwich bread to feed all of the animals there, but I trust that they had determined it was safe for all their animals.
We first stopped by a pen with goats and other farm animals who were clearly very interested in our food. One actually wandered up to me outside the pen inquiring about the food we had. You definitely get up close with some of the animals at the safari park. Next, we wandered over to a pen in the middle of the grass clearing where a worker had a baby tiger out to show us. While we were there we could talk to him about the tiger. He said that this particular tiger was 8 weeks old and had been born there. He also mentioned that some of their tigers were leaving the next day because they no longer had room for them and they were going to a larger space. I thought it was nice that they were careful to relocate their animals when situations got crowded.
After our introduction to the tiger, we wandered further down the grassy clearing where we saw a huge Burmese Python slithering through the field with his handler. I was definitely glad that the handler was keeping a close eye on the snake, but my boys were both clearly thrilled that they got to pet such a large snake. Also out in the clearing in a different pen, we got to meet a skunk, and the boys also loved watching some peacocks strutting around and searching for their feathers.
Then, we headed into some buildings to see more animals. The building was probably my least favorite part. The cages were small for the monkeys and other animals there, but the whole building was not large and we soon were out behind the building where there was a marked trail for us to follow around the zoo. We walked by cages with tigers, bears, alligators, wolves, and lots more. There were double fences so we were definitely protected, but the animals certainly felt close.
At the back of the walking part of the zoo, we got to meet their giraffe. There you could buy some sliced carrots to feed to him because he didn’t eat the other food. The guides that were there discussed how this particular animal had been rescued from a garage where he lived for two years and had his growth stunted, poor thing! I’m glad he seemed happier there, my older boy and I fed him some carrots and he nibbled our hands. Watch out for your hats though because we did see him grab a baseball cap right off someone’s head while we were there. Fortunately, the guides retrieved it.
Next, we got in line for the safari. We had to wait about a half an hour for our ride, but apparently, our wait was a bit longer than is typical. We all got on a large wagon and they gave us some more bread to feed to the animals. Then, we rode through the field feeding animals as they ran along next to us in their pastures. There were all kinds of animals that we were given of a description of by the guide. While I couldn’t here much of what he was saying because we were on the wrong side of the wagon, we loved seeing the animals including water buffalo, zebras, camels, ostriches, lots of varieties of exotic horned animals, some that are even extinct outside of captivity. It was really neat to see.
That ended our tour of Aloha Safari Park, and while my boys saw their stand selling sno cones, we decided to save that for another day and head out.
What we liked: I really liked the mission of Aloha Safari Park. They had clearly rescued a lot of animals of all different varieties from very bad situations including garages and traveling shows like state fairs. I also liked how we got to get up close and personal with lots of the animals and truly experience them. There was a more informal feel of the place which gave us the chance to talk to the guides who all seemed to be very passionate about what they were doing.
What we would change: While I loved lots of things about Aloha Safari Park, there were still some things that gave me pause. First, I thought some of the enclosures seemed a little small for some of the animals or too near to another animal they might not get along with. However, I assume their current situation was better than where they were before. My friend who went with me also wasn’t sure about the food that was given to the animals, but the animals seemed happy, and those that didn’t want it, didn’t eat it.
Website and other important information:
Address: 159 Mini Lane, Cameron, NC 28348
Admission: $8 per person (children 24 months and under are free), $3 for the safari ride (only available on weekends)
(the big snake)
(a view from the safari ride)
(the animals munching behind the trail ride)