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San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park
A Roar & Snore Overnight Adventure

It was 11:00am Saturday August 8, 2009 when my daughter (24), myself and our respective partners arrived at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park for an unforgettable 24-hour family adventure. As a conscious and compassionate animal person, I have to admit I had major reservations about visiting the animal park when my (vegetarian) boyfriend originally showed me the article he read about the parks Roar and Snore overnight camping program. Once he shared his feelings about their program being an integral part of saving many of the creatures on the worlds "Endangered Species" list, that's when I started doing research into this unique 1,800-acre Wild Animal Park, which also includes a 900-acre native plant reserve.

The Wild Animal Park - to my delight - is a smoke free environment centered just inland from Oceanside California. It was originally developed for the purpose of creating sustainable populations of endangered species and is recognized around the world for its successful program. Part of their ongoing work with endangered species includes the efforts of scientists based at the Beckman Center for Conservation Research, located on grounds at the Park, as well as field programs around the world.

The park offers a youth Conversation Corp program for students ages 14-18 (an action and advocacy program), summer camp, Night Owl sleepovers for grades 3-6 and 6-8, as well as family education programs, and of course the Roar and Snore overnight adventure - our destination this particular weekend.

A true test of emotional and physical boundaries - Flightline!
When we first booked our overnight trip, I wasn't thinking in terms of testing my boundaries beyond sleeping with wild animals, which in and of itself seemed rather challenging, but when I saw the opportunity to take a ride on the park's new (May '09) Flightline, I decided, why not? The Flightline took my whole family on an emotional, physical and scenic journey that was unforgettable and gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, taking flight. I say emotional because we all got to process all sorts of fears that would probably would have taken years of therapy to achieve, in an instant (well two-hours).

We were weighed-in, and given our attire (harness) and equipment (trolley) for the adventure. Elisa and Toms (nickname) were our instructors and delivered laughter, security, safety protocol and also proved to be excellent photographers. After a short instruction and safety video we were ready for a (somewhat low to the ground) test run, which at the time seemed high and intimidating, but doable. Ready, set, go! Okay, short, but kind of fun. Unanimous vote - lets go for it.

We had a quick sip of water, and all felt very accomplished that we had made it through training with no causalities. They loaded us into a safari type truck and began educating us about the different animal species and their habitats (distracting us), all the while climbing to heights unknown (900 feet elevation). Suddenly my daughter looked over her shoulder and saw a scenic view of the entire park below and promptly began to panic asking for a homeopathic remedy to help calm her fears. As a prepared mom, I quickly gave her dose of Aconite and some Rescue Remedy.

We had arrived at our destination in front of what looked like a six story platform with a long plank, that we were about to walk - check out our pictures. Even more exciting, not, was that we would be the first to take flight because we had an unconfirmed re-flight scheduled for additional photo ops. What was I thinking? Strapped in and trolleys attached, we took flight (at 50 mph) for what would be an incredible Zen moment of being in the now, where time suspends ever so briefly with a breathtaking view of the wildlife below - a journey every adventurous (mind and body) should experience.

Roar and Snore - camping under a full moon.
We planned our trip around the full moon for nighttime photo opts, but ended up leaving our cameras at campsite. Our group - the Lions - took two 90-minute hicks, one at dusk and then one in the dark of night. All of the camp staff were well versed about the animals and gave us an amazing education. I had asked one of the assistants if they turned the low dimmed lights off at night - while Sarah didn't know, by the next hick she had gotten the answer - yes.

It was truly amazing to get up close and personal with the animals as they roamed the grounds, it was if we were on safari in Africa. On our second hick, armed with our solar flashlights, we were taken to places behind the scenes where we encountered a rare twenty-minutes in the bushes with two young tigers (full grown in size) just waiting to have some fun with humans, nothing but 2-feet and a chain link fence separating us in the dark of night. We crouched down on our hands and knees next to these playful creatures and that's when I actually engaged in a short conversation with one of the tigers. To my surprise and the amazement of the other campers, the tiger jovially began answering me back. The docent said this was a rare and exciting experience. There were lots of oos and awes in those special moments of animal/human magic.

The next morning we met our teams name sake - the Lions - where the king was perched on this thrown (rock) as if having command over the entire region. We witnessed mother and baby black rhinoceros doing their morning exercise and four young cheetahs at eating time. We also were entertained by one of the more social giraffes as he tried to eat one of our new friends hats. It appeared that all of the animals we saw were quite happy in the parks environment, and found some of them even lovingly affectionate to the humans.

Let's talk trash and conservation about the park.
As one can only imagine a facility of this size definately generates an enormous amount of trash and water use. So I'm happy to report that the park does its part in composting and recycling as much as possible, as well as enforces a strict no plastic straw, plastic lid policy to ensure the safety of the animals. It recycles all of the water used at the facility to irrigate the large field habitats and surrounding landscapes, rather than channeling it into the city's sewer system. I also noticed that the parked was using eco-friendly service ware/cups.

Last year the San Diego Zoo was selected as one of the Director's Recycling Award winners for the City of San Diego's 2009 Waste Reduction and Recycling Awards Program (WRAP). They received the award based on "a successful and innovative program resulting in significant waste reduction, recycling and economic benefits, making the them a leader in the community for others to follow.

The canvas tent accommodations were perfect, along with a cushy pad to soften the hard ground - I do like my comfort. The park also offers more deluxe tent amenities complete with furniture (they didn't have any left when we booked). However, the truth is it really didn't matter where we ended up sleeping because we really didn't get much sleep amongst the nighttime animal noises, but it was totally worth it. This fun and educational adventure was an amazingly wonderful family experience for our entire tribe of adventurers, and much more affordable than a Safari trip to South Africa.

To see more pictures of our adventure - click here.

For more information on the Roar and Snore Program - click here, or the Wild Animal Park - click here.

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