THE plains of Africa may be too far distant for many of us to visit, but the next best thing is just a short drive away.
In just over an hour’s drive from Burton, you could see rhinoceroses walking past your car at a distance of mere inches.
Don’t worry, the more fearsome animals keep their distance, but the Safari Drive Through at West Midlands Safari Park in Bewdley gives you the chance to witness rhinos, zebras, buffalo, ostriches, deer, tigers, cheetahs, giraffes, elephants and of course the famous white lions – the only pack of these once-mythical creatures to be found in the United Kingdom.
The Drive Through provides a unique experience to see these creatures close up, and from the comfort of your own car.
As I was taking my two young children with me to Worcestershire, one of whom had fallen asleep on the journey south, this gave the other a fantastic chance to see the animals without dragging him around a zoo from enclosure to enclosure.
The trail takes in four miles across 100 acres, beginning with the African Plains, where the afore-mentioned southern white rhino, giraffes, zebra, Ankole cattle, Congo buffalo, Ellipsen waterbuck, ostrich and the eland, largest of all antelope species.
The Grasslands house the Barbary sheep, the beautiful, endangered Persian fallow deer and the UK’s only venomous snake – the adder, who proved elusive on our visit.
Though we were disappointed not to see the snake, the fact that they were not paraded for viewing says supports the park’s mission statement: “to support conservation of threatened species and habitats, locally, nationally and internationally.”
The Wild Woods are home to a creature of which I had not previously heard – a fox-like animal known as the dhole, whose pack help protect an endangered area of heathland SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).
The Wild Asia area contains enormous water buffalo, dainty blackbuck, stocky Przewalski’s horses, various varieties of deer and the armoured greater one-horned rhino!
Tiger Ridge, Cheetah Plains and the Land of the Painted Dog are self explanatory but all are worth stopping your car and admiring.
That moves one on to the Realm of the Lions, an entire exhibit which has been fully landscaped to create the appearance of Savannah grassland, and themed with boulders, plants and even a sculpted lion’s head rockwork from which a waterfall cascades into a pool below.
The entire area spans more than seven acres, providing important and essential enrichment for the Park’s pride of African lions.
Their pale cousins, the white lions, were long thought to be extinct, until a pride were found in Timbavati.
Most are now in captivity, but re-integration into the wild started in 2009, and West Midlands Safari Park are keen on ex-situ conservation (conservation conducted outside a species’ natural range).
The Asian Lowlands, with camels and more deer, and the Elephant Valley complete the journey, but not the day’s enjoyment.
The Safari Drive Through – which brought constant squeals of delight and “look, daddy” from my three-year-old companion – is the park’s main attraction, but it is far from being the start and end of their delights.
After lunching at the Explorers Family Restaurant, we were out just in time to catch one of the sea lion shows in the specially designed theatre to watch the well-trained creatures show off their amazing skills.
From there, we headed straight to the Tiny Tots Theme Park, with seven rides and attractions designed for the smaller guest, namely the Flying Pandas, an Animal Ark, the Moroccan Magic Carpet, the Simba Kiddies Train, the Red Baron planes, the Serengeti Gallopers and the Rhino Roundabout.
Our appetite for animal attractions thoroughly sated, we made our way back to the car, stopping for Jack to have his face painted, always a delight for him, and to witness a fascinating if graphic talk on snakes in Mark O’Shea’s Reptile World.