As I mentioned in my February post for THE GRUMPY PENGUIN calendar, this is the first year that not every photo in my calendar(s) was taken at the Toronto Zoo. That February photo was taken on our UK trip of 2015; the baby bison photo here was shot much closer to home. In mid-winter of 2016-17, I found out that our four white lion cubs – who were featured in last September’s Baby Boom! story – were heading off to Parc Safari, in Hemmingford, Quebec. This was common public knowledge, but I also came to learn that the lynx babies and their mom, Ember, would be leaving at the same time. I saw the lions on their last day in Toronto; unfortunately, however, I learned of the lynx’ fate too late to see them to say farewell. Coupled with an imminent need to visit an elderly relative in Montreal, the departures of these seven cats made it clear that a trip down Highway 401 was absolutely essential in 2017. After batting around some dates, I decided that the best time to go would be right before Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day in June, as the prices and crowds would greatly increase after then.
I wasn’t sure at all what to expect once I got there. My only previous experience – as far as I can remember – with a drive-through “safari” experience was African Lion Safari (fair warning: if you click on that link, the page it takes you to will immediately begin playing a song that you will not be able to forget) near Cambridge, Ontario, just west of Toronto. We went there once or twice when I was a kid, but I have not been back since then – even with my own kids. I think that’s something I will rectify this summer, but we’ll see. The thing is this: one of the reasons I can defend Zoos in this day and age as necessities is because of the research and conservation initiatives they have undertaken which are so vital to any chance these critically endangered have for survival. I think it’s critically important for people to come face to face with the animals that are in trouble so they can be impacted by their glory. I’m not sure, however, where I stand with the idea of human interaction with these animals – especially the large carnivores. I’m still wrestling with that idea; if I do go to ALS… hmm, that’s an unfortunate acronym, I’d better spell it out… African Lion Safari this summer, I’ll have a much better idea and can form a proper opinion.
It turned out, however, that at least some of my discomfort was alleviated immediately. The drive-through portion of Parc Safari features only herbivores and no meat-eaters of any kind. This made the experience rather like being on a farm, or perhaps an exotic petting zoo. I have considerably less issue with those, so the experience was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. In fact, the only animal I encountered while in my car that posed any danger to my well-being was this ostrich, pictured at left. Even though I held the feed pellets I had purchased in the open, flat palm of my hand, she (judging by the colour) still managed to try to eat a couple of my fingers instead. I only gave her the one shot at it, but I did drop the pellets for her to scavenge after I had moved on. I mean, I’m not completely heartless, you know. But my fingers? I would prefer to keep those for now.
There were many beautiful animals in this part of the Zoo, but I was particularly captivated by the Ankole-Watusi, because they had a brand-new calf! Many of the more recent arrivals at the Toronto Zoo have come from Parc Safari (it’s becoming a bit of a gag; we all call them the “farm team”), the Watusi among them. The five currently residing in Toronto would have been extracted from this herd, seen above. But there are no babies in Toronto – and I do not believe they will be breeding the cattle here. So this six-day-old (I asked) little beauty was a huge treat for me to see. (Can you spot it in the picture above?) I wasn’t able to get a clear enough shot to use in the calendar so this is “bonus material” for you in this post. It was very difficult to tear myself away from this little darling; there were other babies there (obviously) but this one really captured my attention.
Among the other animals who have made their way from Parc Safari to the Toronto Zoo include the magnificent common elands who reside across from the lion exhibit (and drive Lemon crazy), and a stunningly beautiful cat who arrived in a “swap” for two others in her species for breeding purposes. I won’t elaborate further here because that full story will appear in a later post, but I will say this: don’t miss it because it’s a doozy. But I wanted to bring up this point: I have learned from Keepers in Toronto since returning from my visit that every animal that arrives from Parc Safari has been among the best-socialized our Keepers have ever seen. They “shift” well (meaning they go on and off exhibit and between enclosures without hassle), they train well for blood draws and other exams, and they are curious and calm around the many visitors they receive. If I had any doubts before I took that trek to Parc Safari, suffice it to say they have all completely dissipated now. In fact, Sarah and I really hope to head there this summer (I made the trip alone last year). There are more animals there now from Toronto for me to visit; my fingers are tightly crossed that Nandu may yet move there before we visit. That would be awesome.
I have many more photos and stories from Parc Safari, but I will try to space them out over the other posts I will make this year. Two more of the babies I feature in 2018’s calendar are from there as well. And, of course, there’s the upcoming story of the swap. But all those will come later; next month features a baby from a Toronto Zoo animal that is only visible seasonally. Hope you like it and thanks for joining me for this glimpse of Parc Safari!