“The spirit of Africa in the heart of the Wine Country” is the appropriately exotic motto at Safari West, a 400-acre wildlife preserve located in the oak-studded hills between Santa Rosa and Calistoga. Safari West offers year-round, authentic safari vehicle tours, private safaris, lodging and dining.  It’s home to herds of buffalo and wildebeest, hosts of antelope, a shimmer of zebras, a pair of robust rhinoceroses, ostriches, gazelles, lemurs, and dozens of bright bird species—to name a small sampling.

The focus is on preservation and propagation—Safari West has been propagating endangered species since its establishment in 1989.  Conservation programs are currently in place for two species of Saharan Desert Antelope that are now extinct in the wild. Education, research and public interaction are key parts of the mission—I can attest to the latter; I’d never seen so many exotic animals up-close, except in a zoo. As a Northern California native, I found the surrealism of crawling through familiar hillsides in an open-air jeep and encountering all those safari animals, well… strange but beautiful. The tour included about two hours in the jeep, followed by a brief break and 45 minutes by foot. I learned that rhinos weigh about two tons, live up to 50 years, and mate for life; and that giraffes have only seven vertebrae in their necks, just like us.

My time on Safari was limited to one afternoon, but the preserve is lined with stylized, comfortable tent-cabins. Safari West is the outlandish brainchild of Peter Lang, son of Otto Lang, who directed Flipper and Daktari—his childhood was not lacking in exposure to wild animals. He and his wife, Nancy, a zoological biologist, live on the property. They say that Sonoma County is the perfect place for Sub-Saharan animals due to the similarity in climate. They enthuse, “Indeed… a sip of chardonnay pairs marvelously with a spot of cheetah!” Who knew?

Safari West Wildlife Preserve and African Tent Camp
3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404
707.579.2551, safariwest.com