I rejoice when it rains in San Diego. Especially since our years-long drought has left land beyond the reach of sprinklers sapped and dusty. So I wasn’t too concerned when the weather report declared an 80 percent chance of rain on the first Monday in February—and I had reservations for a Deluxe Caravan Safari at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, to celebrate the birthday of a friend visiting from out of town. She and her sister, both from the Northwest, were very excited to experience the Safari Park, even if the skies were scowling at us.
Upon arrival, it was clear it was going to be a great day: parking was a breeze! And the misty, fresh air smelled divine. Clad in light raincoats and hats, we collected our tickets at the will call window and headed inside. A couple of keepers were giving a presentation with a cheetah and dog, and the dozen or so guests were rapt. We could hear the cheetah purring!
The Park was calm and quiet, leaves dripping, as we made our way to Tiger Trail. Of all the big cats, tigers are the most keen on water and often take dips in their pools. But today they didn’t seem too pleased at “getting their hair wet” via the drizzle. They look incredible close up, regal, fur gleaming, saucer-sized paws silently carrying them past us as we stood in stunned awe. “Tigers are so much bigger in person,” I murmured inanely to my friends. I imagine what it must be like seeing them in the wild, no glass to shield you from these poised predators. As if to prove my point, one cat yawned, revealing his three-inch-long canine teeth, tools that could make short order out of any threat. The foliage was brilliant green, refreshed by the recent rain, and appeared eager to soak up more.
Following a tasty lunch at Thorntree Terrace, we checked in for our Caravan Safari. I mentioned that it was Cheryl’s birthday, and the woman disappeared for a moment, then returned with a personalized “birthday button” for our guest of honor. Fortunately, the caravan has a canvas roof, so our group stayed pretty dry throughout. Our guide was terrific and very knowledgeable about animals, conservation, and what we can all do to help wildlife. My favorite part was when our driver would find the perfect spot out in the field exhibits and cut the engine, and our guide would let us enjoy the quiet, multi-species, outdoor experience. It was a completely different vibe in the rain than on the typical sunny day—you could even hear the animals’ hooves squishing in the mud and their snorts and snuffles of communication.
We got to feed giraffes acacia leaves (and pose for photos) and rhinos gobbled up our apple slices. The birthday girl got to feed them first, and the animals seemed to enjoy our treats to the bottom of the bucket. “It’s not every day you get to see raindrops on a giraffe’s long eyelashes!” exclaimed Cheryl. A five-foot-tall ostrich shook off the rain, fluffing and preening her feathers, while knots of ungulates appeared indifferent to the drizzle. I had never been to the Safari Park on a damp day, but after our magical, moody Monday, I am going to keep my umbrella at the ready for those wet and wonderful surprises waiting for me in the rain.
Karyl Carmignani is a staff writer for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her most recent article, On the Mend.