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San Diego Zoo & Safari Park – We Got To Pet Rhinos!

Travel Stage: After Anza Borrego, before heading back north
Date Range: March 13 – 27, 2017
Summary:  We explore the world famous San Diego Zoo & Safari Park and get to do see and do some incredible things – like touch a real-life, full-grown Southern White Rhino!

While in the San Diego area we had the amazing opportunity to visit the San Diego Zoo AND the Safari Park!

If you are planning to visit either of these places (or both), plan to spend a whole day there. Maybe a couple of days – I’m serious. And wear comfy shoes. There is so much to see you’ll be satisfyingly exhausted by the end of your visit.

San Diego Zoo

​We discovered that this zoo is famous for a reason: it is huge and impressive, and has nearly every animal you could hope to see. 

  ​Upon entrance you’re greeted by a flock of perfectly pink flamingos that you could quite literally stand and watch for half an hour before you remembered you’ve only just barely stepped in the door. The colorful cartoon map will guide you through the park, and the free air tram will quickly transport you to the other side of the huge zoo and save you some walking (as long as you’re not too terrified of heights).

  ​Without boring you with the details of our precise order of animal viewing, I’ll just get to the pictures: This dirty polar bear ALMOST dove into the water for us!  

We got to watch these comical, lazy panda bears be fed.

San Diego Safari Park

​Long story short, we had a family friend who worked at the Safari Park. His name was Steve, and we gave us the most amazing behind-the-scenes tour, complete with a jeep ride through the enclosures and tour of the Rhino Rescue Center.

  ​It was amazing to hear about the amount of care and work that goes into and comes out of the San Diego Zoo and Safari Parks. Steve told us about all the research that they do of the animals on habitat requirements, social behaviors, mating rituals and patterns, etc. that all gets used for keeping wild populations healthy and bringing back species on the brink of extinction.

  ​One such example is the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center. This center is dedicated to the research and rescue of the nearly extinct Northern White Rhino and the endangered Southern White Rhino. 

  There are 6 female Southern White Rhinos here, and they are a part of a reproductive research project with the goal of hopefully bringing back the Northern White Rhino from extinction through DNA cloning and IVF. These 6 rhinos have an incredible story, and are being trained to accept human handling to prepare them for their role as brood mothers for IVF with DNA cloned Southern White Rhinos. ​ ​If all goes well and their research is successful, the ultimate goal is to DNA clone the few remaining Northern White Rhino. These last survivors are too old to reproduce and under armed guard at all times. ​We entered the Center and saw barred stalls and pens like you’d see at a horse or livestock barn…except about 6-8 inches in diameter! At the end of the aisle we approached a pen with openings to the outside and butterflies fluttered in our stomachs as one of these huge, beautiful rhinos curiously came in and approached the bars.

  Then,… ah! Then! Then Steve reached through the bars and pet the rhino’s back, and invited us to do the same!

  ​This experience ranks up there in the Top 10 experiences in my life. It was beyond words. Her skin was hard as rock and felt like it too, but there were coarse hairs there too that you can’t see unless you’re up close. She let us all rub her back, and then sauntered away and out the other doorway. Another rhino came in through the original entrance, and she too came up to us for her turn at a back rub. 

  ​Most if not all the rhinos cycled through to check us out and receive a few pats. One of the rhinos let me rub her ears, around her eyes, and even her horn (which we learned is the exact same material as your finger nails…no medicinal value even though it is the reason they are poached.)  

  ​Afterward we walked outside to observe them interact with each other, and their power and might was evident. Although they seemed docile for us inside, they sparred with each other by smacking their horns together with a loud crack! Glad we’d had those 6-inch bars between us and the rhinos!

  Steve told us that he was part of the team that flew these 6 rhinos back from Africa. He said that some people may think that taking 6 rhinos from the wild seems cruel, but for reference that is the number that gets poached every 2 days for their horn.   

  It was such a moving experience to learn about and interact with these magnificent creatures. That’s why we purchased our little rhino momento that now rides in our truck with us as our mascot – reminding us of the many once-in-a-lifetime experiences we’ve had on this adventure!

The Rest Of The Safari Park

​After our amazing personal tour, we explored the rest of the park. We saw tigers playing in water and chasing their tails, a family of apes pulling pranks on each other, a cheetah sprint, and many, many other amazing things!

Tiger Trail

If you like big cats you’ll love the Tiger Trail! This huge exhibit had at least 6 tigers when we were there. Several of the young ones were playing together in a pool in their exhibit. Others were relaxing in the shade or enjoying a juicy bone.

The Cheetah Sprint

Yes, it’s “off leash” and running straight at us! At 3:30 most days you can see this cheetah sprint after fake prey. Get to the viewing area early to make sure you get a good viewing spot!  

More Wonderment

There was more to see around every turn, and we loved walking the beautifully landscaped paths that would you through the large exhibits and habitats. 

  Overall we loved our time here and it definitely lived up to its reputation!

To find out more about the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park, check out these following websites:
​News from the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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