4 amazing things to do at Safari West in Santa Rosa

Peter Lang first felt the call of the wild as a child, running around Hollywood backlots in the 1960s while his filmmaker father, Otto, worked on TV shows like “Flipper,” “Daktari,” and “Sea Hunt.”

The young Lang felt a deep connection to nature after befriending lions and chimps on the “Daktari” set. It inspired him to raise African eland, large antelopes with oxlike bodies, and eventually inspired him to found Safari West, a 400-acre nature preserve nestled among the rolling hills of Santa Rosa, in 1993.

This is more than a wildlife refuge for Lang and his wife, zoologist Nancy. It’s their entire life’s work. Lang refused to abandon the preserve during the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa. As the flames approached, he ordered everyone to flee and fought the fire with a garden hose and a shovel. He stood guard all night, ensuring the safety of all 1,000 animals, from giraffes and cheetahs to rhinos and hyenas. The Langs’ home was destroyed by the inferno that night, but not a single animal was lost.

That fierce devotion is what elevates this to more than just a zoo where most of the animals are allowed to roam freely. A visit to this wildlife sanctuary feels like an escape from everyday life. It’s certainly the closest many of us will ever get to experiencing the Serengeti’s magic. Here are four things you must do the next time you visit.

Go on safari

A dazzling herd of zebras bolts across the road, possibly frightened by your off-road vehicle. You never know what creatures will appear as you bounce up and down the winding roads on a three-hour quest to see more than 90 different species. However, it is common to see leaping antelopes, fuzzy baby zebras, and possibly a rowdy cape buffalo, the preserve’s most dangerous animal, grunting in a standoff.

You are not allowed to touch the animals, but that does not mean they will not try to touch you. Be prepared for sneaky ostriches looking to steal your sunglasses and giraffes looking for a nuzzle. And there’s a dainty little demoiselle crane named Kovu in the aviary who might try to sneak out with you.

Indulge that baby fever

Any baby’s birth is cause for celebration, but the arrival of a Southern white rhino is nothing short of miraculous. Otto, a 100-pound bundle of joy named after Lang’s father, represents a significant environmental milestone. Safari West zoologists have been attempting to breed rhinos for nearly a decade in order to aid in the conservation of the endangered species, and this is their first success. Poaching has nearly wiped out the Northern white rhino, making the arrival of Otto, a cousin of that species, all the more welcome. Best of all, he’s a real rogue, barreling around on chubby limbs until he collapses or attempting to entice his mother, Eesha, into a game of tag.

Some of his antics can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9w9-P4ADXDI

Go behind the scenes

Specialty tours include behind-the-scenes encounters with wildlife ranging from cheetahs to gregarious giraffes looking for their favorite snack. Obviously, you won’t be feeding the cheetahs anything, but the giraffes are a completely different story. Hold on to those acacia leaves tight; giraffes are strong pullers.

Go glamping

Stay overnight to extend the magic. Dinner will be a traditional South African braai, a hearty barbeque of spice-rubbed chicken or brisket, followed by wine by the fire while children and grandchildren cartwheel on the grass near the aviary. After dark, you can explore the area with a flashlight before retiring to one of 30 luxury camping tents imported from Botswana and outfitted with zebra-print bedding, African art, and gorgeous woodwork (some made by Lang). Sleep to kookaburra chuckles and wake up to flamingos squawking for breakfast. (Bring earplugs, as the jungle can be quite noisy.) When the sun comes up, go watch the fluffy little fennec foxes beg for food and belly rubs.

Safari West, 3115 Porter Creek Road in Santa Rosa, offers reservation-only safari tours ($45-$148), as well as specialty tours and overnights; www.safariwest.com.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply