BY LARRY VAUGHT
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — As we got ready to leave Doc Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari, my 9-year-old grandson Cooper could not hide his smile or enthusiasm.
“Greatest experience ever,” he told any staff member he saw after our 3 1/2 extraordinary hours at this unique attraction that I knew nothing about until this year.
I had four grandchildren ages 6-9 along with my wife, daughter and son-in-law with me. I am not sure who had the best time — and it might easily have been me.
Where else could you hold three tiger cubs and play with a wolf cub? Where else could you feed apples to an elephant or sausage to a full-grown tiger? Where other than Myrtle Beach Safari could a monkey sit on my lap with my three grandsons huddled around me? How could you find another place where monkeys would sit with you as you roasted hot dogs and s’mores? I might even have been able to let the monkey next to me eat a chocolate chip cookie or two along with a marshmallow.
“I don’t think I will ever forget being here,” Savana, my 9-year-old granddaughter, said. She now has her heart set on being an intern on the 50-acre preserve when she turns 18.
I was told before we made our visit that there was no way to truly appreciate what we would experience. That turned out to be exactly right.
Every moment was exciting from the time the huge gates opened to let us in. I am still not sure what I liked best because I enjoyed everything thanks in large part to the four trainers/guides who were with our group of about 30 to make sure we didn’t miss anything and to answer any and all questions we might have. They all live on site and my grandkids had plenty of questions.
“Doc Antle’s safari was nothing short of the best thing I’ve ever done in my whole life,” Jessica Hudson, my daughter, said. “My daughter, Savana, is a true animal lover and has yet to meet an animal that she wouldn’t take home with her. When we watched the online video of the safari experience she literally fell off the couch she was so excited.
“Being able to interact with tigers, elephants, monkeys and wolves was a dream come true for her. She was full of questions and the staff took to time to answer each question she had in an age appropriate way. I’m sure they don’t often get asked if a white tiger can marry an orange tiger but the staff took it in stride and gave a great explanation that she could understand.
“Being able to watch Savana have an opportunity of a lifetime was amazing and it didn’t hurt that I got to nuzzle a few baby tigers along the way.”
(Savana also found plenty of keepsakes she liked that were for sale at the end of the tour and loved the T-shirt she will probably wear to school every day in the fall.)
My son-in-law, Berry Hudson, was like a kid on Christmas morning rushing to see what Santa Claus left when the 4-month-old wolf cub — or wolf puppy as one of my grandsons called it — came out to visit and play. He had dreamed of having a chance to hold/touch a wolf cub and literally ran to the cub when the trainer brought it out.
Visitors come not only from across the country to see the animals, but from around the world because there’s no place else in the world quite like the Myrtle Beach Safari where proceeds go to benefit the Rare Species Fund that was established to help fund on the ground international wildlife conservation programs.
Doc Antle founded T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Specie) as a wildlife education organization to promote global conservation with educational and interactive programs. He works with international wildlife conservation projects in South America, Africa and Thailand to provide funds and research. He has been part of over 500 films (Disney’s Jungle Book is one), TV shows and documentaries. He’s appeared as a wildlife expert on National Geographic Channel, BBC, CNN and Discovery Channel.
I doubt I will ever make it to Africa for a safari. This was the next best thing and makes what seems like a high price for the attraction more than reasonable when you consider the experience you have. My grandkids loved feeding Bubbles, the elephant, and getting to touch her. I think she even gave me a little friendly hug with her trunk as we posed for a photo. And when the tiger roared waiting for us to give it sausage, the looks on my grandchildren’s faces were spectacular.
They were amazed by the size of the 900-pound liger — the offspring of a male lion and female tiger — but were equally entertained watching young tigers play in a pool of water.
Remember the beach is only a few miles away but that never really enters your mind during the three plus hours you are on your safari interacting with so many animals. The whole preserve is beautiful but also extremely safe for all ages. Some walking — and climbing steps — is required but that was no problem for my wife with her limited mobility.
Tour prices for the night and/or day safari start at $299 per person. Drinks and snacks are included, and the food was really good even though my grandchildren were too mesmerized by the animals to want to eat. Cameras, cell phones and other devices are not allowed on property but staff photographers do a great job not only capturing your group in a bunch of photos but having them ready on a CD when the tour ends.
T.I.G.E.R.S. also has Preservation Station at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach — about 17 miles from the preserve. This is a free exhibit where tigers relax and play at night in a glass enclosure. The tigers do not live there and only come for a few hours each night from March through October. You can pay to have a picture taken with the baby tiger that makes for another priceless souvenir few can ever get.
My family is already wondering if they can go on the day safari next year when we go back to Myrtle Beach, which offers a different experience than the night safari. Until then, we have so many terrific pictures to view and memories that will last forever thanks to one incredible night at Myrtle Beach Safari.