Drive-thru brings safari experience close to home

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Burt the giraffe leans over Jessica Quakenbush of Odon while reaching for a snack during a guided wagon tour at Wilstem Wildlife Park in Paoli on Tuesday. Wilstem has been expanding in recent years, including opening the self-guided drive-through safari on Saturday.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

PAOLI — Burt the giraffe was happy to crane his neck, whip out his tongue and snack on leaves and carrots. Curly Sue, Boo and an amoebous herd of cattle all flocked to shaking bowls of food pellets. Alpacas, water buffalo, addax and more all peered at the traveling cart from a distance.

The safari scene described above didn’t take place on foreign ground. Instead, the oohs and ahhs of captivated expeditioners could be heard Tuesday on the rambling grounds of Wilstem Wildlife Park in Paoli.

Ranch leadership has steadily increased its animal encounter offerings since introducing elephants to the 1,100-acre rural getaway in 2015. Saturday, the destination officially launched a new attraction aimed at further safely immersing guests in exotic habitats.

A drive-thru safari park.

See a gallery of photos here

About 30 species — 150 animals total — were recently released to roam across the thick forests and hilly plains that line the 1.5-mile gravel loop. Audrey Brames, the site’s marketing director, explained that the staff’s goal is “for the guests to leave here and potentially maybe touch something that they’ve never touched before.”

“Or see something up close that they’ve never seen,” she said. “Or have that memorable experience that they can share with their families.”

The drive-thru does just that — and allows customers to experience the fun at a relaxed pace, from the comfort of their own vehicles. Wilstem has hosted animal encounter stations with animals like elephants, grizzly bears and giraffes for several years, and Brames noted that the social-distancing-friendly drive-thru’s opening was bumped up during the coronavirus pandemic.

Addax, also known as white antelope, graze in a field during a guided wagon tour through the safari park at Wilstem Wildlife Park in Paoli on Tuesday.

“People can stay in their cars,” she said. “They don’t have to interact [with other humans] if they choose not to. So they can stay with their families and it’s completely safe, as far as COVID goes.”

Along the varied-terrain journey, riders can spot animals both crossing the road and frolicking in the distance. Each participant is given cups of food pellets and carrots that they can offer up to whatever wanders by during the trek. The tail-end of the ride features up-close opportunities with giraffes, zebras and camels — all eager to stick their heads over the fences and chow down or be petted.

An open-air wagon ride is also available for those searching for an even closer view. Wilstem President Jerry Fuhs zigged on and off the trail Monday, pointing out darting blackbucks and sleepy bison. When the 75-minute ride ended, Dale Quakenbush of Odon said these pointers were much appreciated.

“We’ve been to a few of these and safaris, and I like the fact that he took the time to stop, get the animals to come up [and] tell you a little bit about them,” Quakenbush reflected shortly after the wagon returned to base camp. “Rather than it just being a commercial drive-thru.”

After departing the wagon, customers also have access to the site’s Roos and Crew barn, which houses parakeets, lemurs, kangaroos, porcupines, a sloth and more. New critters will continue to be added frequently to the ranch’s mobile attraction, too.

Wilstem’s drive-thru is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with wagon tours leaving at 9, 10:30 and noon. Prices can be found at wilstem.com/drive-thru and range from $10 to $25 per person depending on the experience. Children ages two and under are admitted free.




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