Read the original article by Mary Hance at tennessean.com here.
When is the last time you had a giant zebra stick its head into your car in search of a snack?
Or have you invited a herd of hungry ostriches to dart their long necks through your rolled down window pecking around for munchies?
These up-close animal experiences and many others — including car visits from big shaggy camels, friendly llamas, behemoth bison, cute little deer, antelopes and emu — can be yours at the Tennessee Safari Park in Alamo, Tenn., just north of Jackson.
Two hours from Nashville or an hour and a half from Memphis, this unique drive-thru zoo is a perfect day trip for animal-loving families who are up for a little adventure.
Our group, which consisted of me, my daughter and my 5-year-old and 2 ½-year-old granddaughters, made our trip on a beautiful fall morning.
Despite some initial skepticism, our two hour stay turned out to be a delightful day to remember.
The animals are free-roaming, so you slowly drive your car with windows open along the route and stop wherever you like. If you hold out the buckets, the various safari animals will dig into “exotic pet food” you can buy at the park entrance.
It was super interactive and funny to the point we had to pull the car over and roll up the windows to laugh several times, especially when an overeager ostrich, who we expected would peck a few pellets of food out of the proffered bucket, surprised us by deftly plucking the pretty pink bow out of our toddler’s hair.
It caused quite a stir, as did the clever camel that managed to skillfully grab a whole bucket of the feed from my daughter’s grip.
This is an “enter at your own risk” kind of place. You don’t have to sign a waiver, but they make it clear that they are not liable.
Admission is $16 for adults, $12 for children 2-12 and free for children 1 and under. It is cash only at the gate. There is a coupon in your Nashville City Saver bookl that will save you $12.
Buy enough food to keep the animals coming your way along the 5 ½-mile route. We bought eight buckets ($20) of “exotic animal food,” which looks like dry dog food. That was plenty of food for our trek, and we brought along a couple of extra empty buckets, as advised by seasoned Safari Park goers, so we could hold some food back from the greedier animals.
Safari Park tips
The drive-thru part of the zoo is 5 ½ miles long and can take about an hour or two to traverse with all of the feeding stops. You can stop anywhere you see the animals coming up.
Park staff gives visitors a quick safety talk where they go over rules and a bit of advice before the cars head out on the safari.
They advise you to brace your feed cup by gripping it from the bottom, but if an animal takes your bucket, (like that camel did) to continue along the route.
Park rules include: 5 mph maximum speed is, do not honk, and do not get out of the car. No outside food is allowed. Do not litter, smoke or try to pet the animals.
The best advice is to arrive as close to the 10 a.m. opening time as possible. Pick a day when it is warm enough to comfortably have your car windows rolled down.
Free-roaming animals include zebra, ostrich, buffalo, giraffe, monkeys, kangaroos, deer, llamas, emu, alpacas, ostriches and camels.
There is also a walk-through zoo, which includes a petting area with goats, giraffe, pygmy goats, farm animals. exotic birds, and reptiles.
The exotic animal collection was started in 1963 by Claude Conley Sr. when he was 15 years old and brought in buffalo to the farm, which has been in the Conley family since the 1850s. The collection grew over the years, and the family opened it as a safari park in 2007.
It is now owned by Claude Conley Jr. and Jon Conley and features about 1,000 animals, 100 species and takes up 300 acres of the family’s 750-acre working cattle and cotton farm.
Annual attendance is about 80,000 people.
If you go
What: Tennessee Safari Park
Where: 618 Conley Road, Alamo, Tenn., 16 miles off Interstate 40 exit 79
When: The park is open year round. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The last cars are allowed in at 4 p.m. daily.
Details: http://www.tennesseesafaripark.com or 731-696-4423