The still of the night, was occasionally broken by the elephants trumpeting nearby and the majestic roar of a lion out on the plane. Outside our tent, the stars shone like millions of heavenly eyes, seemingly winking at us with twinkling eyes while the Milky Way arched its shinning halo above us.

   Having wanted to go on an African wildlife photographic safari, for many years, as we both love the uniqueness of photographing animals, but under current conditions it is virtually impossible, so some time ago before lockdown, I decided to do the next best thing & surprise my wife with a visit to Australia’s version for an exciting adventure.

  I purchased a package deal at Taronga Park Western Plains Zoo Dubbo, which included staying in their Zoofari Lodge which offers an unrivalled in-zoo safari experience with accommodation in unique lodges. This wild escape is inclusive of breakfasts for 2 for 2 mornings, gourmet dinners for us on both nights, 2 nights’ accommodation, exclusive tours, two-day zoo entry and bike hire.

  Excitement mounted as we drove into the zoo & was shown to our luxurious “tents” in a gorgeous native bush setting, with the animals being nearby, though not visible from our one. There are others that have a verandah facing them. Well, they looked like tents on the outside, but inside, it is a whole new ball game, it is Glamping. There is a tiled floor, ceiling fan, air con, ensuite bathroom, 2 single beds, a sofa bed & of course, the main Queen size one. There was tea & coffee making facilities, with a mini bar along with a small, covered verandah that had a table & chair setting where you could enjoy your quiet cuppa.

  The Lodge is nearby where one can have a few drinks & an incredible meal, all on the zoo grounds.

  Having placed our bags into our “tent” we just had enough time to make our way back to the waiting minibus, to board for our afternoon visit to see the newly born Giraffe & to feed the adult ones, then eventually onto the feeding of the lions & tiger & seeing the Maned Wolf from South America. These are just a handful of behind-the-scenes animal encounter experiences, not included in the original package, but on offer, & ones that I had booked, as an extra surprise.

  We were feeling humbled in the presence of these majestic lions, tigers & the other rare, beautiful animals that the zoo has.

   Many people may not like the fact that animals are locked up in zoos, but these ones are all very well looked after. The whole area is spread out in spacious, savannah like settings with natural barriers between the public & the animals that are allowed to roam seemingly free. In fact, zoos are responsible for the repopulation of many a near extinct animal, through their breeding programs. The zoo at Dubbo is no exception.

  The black rhino is one such animal & is on the critically endangered list. The Zoo may be the first in the world to have three successful breeding programs for rhinoceros operating concurrently … Beyond the Zoo, they actively support conservation efforts for their rhino's wild cousins in Africa, Indonesia, and India, providing funds and support for habitat protection and reforestation. 

  Another animal that has benefited from this breeding program is the Cheetah, with this zoo being first in the world to have successfully bred cheetahs & have a strong connection with the Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB), who conduct youth and adult education activities in remote rural areas where human-wildlife conflict is rife, & Cheetahs are being killed to critically low numbers.

   The new dawn was heralded by our Kookaburra alarm as it laughed us out of our comfortable sleep at 6.00 am, thankful for we had another behind the scenes safari that we had booked for 6.30. This time it was the endangered Black Rhino that was waiting our visit. The zoo had successfully fertilised an egg from the endangered Black Rhino, via an IVF program that took 5 years of collaboration with the zoo and the world’s leading reproductive experts from Berlin's Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, thus making it the world’s first.

  Being so close that we could just touch this incredible animal & holding its favourite plant while it gently took it out of our hands, was an experience that we both cherish and will stay with us for a long time. It saddens us immensely to think that people could hunt such beautiful animals for their horns.

  From here we were led to outside the Cheetah enclosure, to marvel at the world’s fastest land mammal. Such beauty, long & sleek from head to tail, definitely made for speed, in fact it looked like it was doing 100kph just sitting there, (they can hit that speed in 3 seconds, from a standing start) as it surveyed all before it with ever vigilant eyes. By instinct, they look for the young or weakest in their prey, which was evident, as it watched 2 children who were in our encounter group, running around, its eyes followed them more intently than the adults.


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