Safari West in Sonoma is a true gem, and not to sound overly dramatic, it is also a miracle.
Last October, Safari West came perilously close to being destroyed, or at least deeply impacted, by the fires — specifically the Tubbs fire, which burned more than 36,000 acres and is now on record as the most destructive wildfire in California history. Following the fire, Marin Magazine’s editor, Mimi Towle, paid a visit to Safari West’s owner Peter Lang to find out how he managed to save his animals (hint: mainly using a garden hose).
Lang’s heroism did not go unnoticed. Earlier this month, he received the American Red Cross 2018 Animal Rescue Hero award for his brave endeavors to save the animals at the cost of letting his own house burn down.
Recently I had a chance to visit Safari West for the first time with my family, a little more than seven months after the fires first broke out. While evidence of Tubbs’ mass destruction could be seen from almost every angle — in the hills surrounding the property, from the roads leading up to it and the houses being rebuilt close by — Safari West appeared to be virtually untouched. I couldn’t help but think there must have been some kind of divine intervention going on that kept the most destructive blazes away and enabled Lang to do what he needed to do when the fire broke out.
On the day of our visit, the grounds looked fresh and inviting with spring flowers blooming everywhere. There was an abundance of baby animals. My favorites were Itty and Bitty, two 10-day-old warthogs who were hanging out with their keeper in a pen on the main lawn. Warthogs are not what most consider to be as cute, but these guys were spunky and lively and adorable. We also spied baby flamingos, baby wildebeest and a baby roan antelope.
The exotic aviary is world class. It’s a busy, vibrant place filled with scarlet ibis, storks, cranes, ducks, egrets and a nicobar pigeon, which is a distant relative of the dodo bird. And of course, lots of bird sounds. Another highlight — seeing giraffes up close and personal on our jeep tour, where one of the youngest members of the herd, a one-year-old male, made a point of approaching our vehicle with an inquisitive look on his face. We lingered for a while at the rhinoceros enclosure, watching a 7,000 pound creature happily devouring whatever he could find on the ground, covered in mud. Our guide, Jeff, points out that rhinos are surprisingly docile and enjoy being petted by the staff.
Unlike zoos, Safari West lets you take in the experience with an overnight stay. My family rented one of the luxury platform tents for the night. The tents are imported from Botswana and include surprisingly nice bathrooms. This is a nice add-on if it fits with your budget. Another option is the nightly dinner, which is buffet style and affordable. Our meal consisted of chicken, ribs and some downright delicious macaroni and cheese.
While you can see all the animals on the Safari West site, my recommendation would be to skip the pre-trip research and discover this place for yourself. Make sure to take your time to let it soak in and enjoy all that this little slice of Serengeti has to offer.
A freelance writer in Marin who writes about family, kids and parenting, Glass is the mother to one son, one dog and a hamster named Miss Geri. When she’s not writing, trekking up steep hills in Marin or driving her kid to sports practice, she and her family spend time in their tiny cabin in Lake Tahoe. She avidly supports the California Academy of Sciences, a world class science museum and research institution, and the Institute on Aging which provides much needed services to Bay Area seniors and disabled adults. Glass is obsessed with baking the perfect loaf of banana bread, something she makes so often she no longer needs to look at a recipe card.