The fun and exotic start to the 2018 Girl Scout Cookie season kicked off Saturday, January 20th, 2018, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The zoo, located in Escondido, California, resides in a very peaceful and natural setting and the weather was just right that morning! I noticed the lush, tropical greenery as we strolled up the hill to the entrance of the park with several other Girl Scouts and their families. We were all wearing the same pastel green cookie rally t-shirt under our jackets. This year our SWAG t-shirts had a unique floral pattern forming the shape of a lovely elephant, this year’s theme animal.
The cookie rally was scheduled to start at noon, so we headed off to view some of many exhibits that seemed inspired by the African Serengeti. We really wanted to go on the tethered helium balloon ride but it was closed because of the strong winds; however, I definitely want to try it next time! We then ran towards one of the most popular destinations at the park – the African Tram Ride. The 30-minute ride went past herds of elephants, zebras, gazelles, and several endangered species. The animals were roaming free in what appeared to be a comfortable and natural setting for them. Seeing the majestic elephants reminded me, once again, of this year’s cookie reward mascot.
I have never been on a safari in Africa, but I imagine that it would be very similar to our tram ride. I learned so much about wildlife from our tram guide and learned that there were more than 3,500 animals in the zoo, roaming in large enclosures that replicate their natural habitat. There was an elegant family of giraffes huddled together and peering calmly at our tram. The guide informed us that giraffes can eat up to 75 pounds of food per day. The Uganda giraffe is the only truly endangered giraffe subspecies, but at the Safari Park, there have been more than 100 Ugandan giraffe births in the park’s African Plains Habitat.
We also saw a group or “crash” of rhinos slowly but decisively eating some grass. A gentle antelope and a gazelle approached one of the rhinos and almost got knocked over by its horn. The gazelle managed to move nimbly away. The antelope had a sharp horn of its own and must have been a male. Our guide explained that black and white rhinos are both the same color of brownish gray. The white rhino eats grass while the black rhino prefers shrubs and leaves. Shockingly, there are only three Northern White Rhinos left on the planet! However, the Safari Park has the largest crash of rhinos and the most successful captive breeding program for rhinos in the world.
I was sad when our tram ride was over, but our blue wristband “schedule” indicated that our time to see the “Animal Interaction “ show was about to begin. We walked over to the Benbough Amphitheater, and the first thing we saw was a Burmese python named Julius Squeezer. The Zoo trainers used him to teach us about the importance of the role of snakes and the need for conservation. We also learned the importance of buying sustainable palm oil. The Zoo trainers stressed the power of consumer buying again when they reminded us that consumer purchasing “protests” are what finally stopped the manufacture of dolphin-based tuna.
The Animal Interaction session was very informative. Our next stop was Hunte Nairobi Pavilion, where Cookie Rally was hosted. On the way there, we strolled through several walking trails where we saw graceful, sleeping lions and tigers and walked into what seemed like dense forests and grassy savannas. We finally reached the pavilion which was full of chatter, activity, and booths, all inspiring us to be true cookie bosses.
We first stood in the long line at the Tasting Station. All 8 flavors were available to taste and we each received a paper bag, and a cookie lanyard with this year’s cookie menu on the front and a calculating cheat sheet on the back. There was also an I Care booth where a Girl Scout could choose her card, color it in, write a nice “thank you” message and fold and place it in the I Care box. I liked the Cookie House Party Booth which was a dessert station full of decadently delicious ideas for cookie-selling by the case as well as ideas for assembling groups of scouts to learn about the Cookie Boss business. There was also the Meet the Board booth where members of the Board of Directors handed out special “Meet the Board” patches and networked with the girls. Regrettably, I somehow missed the nice Board of Directors and the patch but I’ll look for meeting them next year for sure!
There were other cute booths at the Pavilion such as the Self-Esteem booth with its self-esteem check-list and positivity flowers. Each girl writes 6 positive things about herself on a flower and carries it with her when needed. There were also cookie dough handouts and a fun photo booth. I liked the financial literacy booth where the girls rolled the cookie dice and the amount determined how many cookies they were buying. There was also a Goal Setting/Regional Goal Trees booth where a Girl Scout traces her hand, cuts it out, writes her first name and troop number on it and writes her personal cookie goal. She then tapes her hand on her region’s tree. The trees will then be moved to GS offices and placed in the mega cupboards to remind each girl to focus on her leadership and to believe in herself. There were also tables full of information about different Girl Scout camps. I think my cousin and I would like to attend the Girl Scout Conservation Camp next summer where we will go on guided tours and enjoy up-close animal encounters! The Cookie Rally was an informative event and congratulations to all the amazing top-selling Girl Scouts who received their well-earned awards at the afternoon ceremony!
After leaving the Pavilion, we walked to the Cheetah Run. This event was a highlight because I had never seen anything like it before. The cheetah lives with two dogs who are his pals. As we learned during the Animal Interaction session, the domestic dog is the perfect companion to the cheetah. The cheetah has no claws and is thus a flight and not a fight type of animal. In fact, the cheetah is on the endangered species list because of human interaction. Farmers and ranchers either shoot cheetahs or lay out poison for them. Dogs, “man’s best friends,” can help the cheetahs survive by reading their signals and vice versa.
In the Cheetah Run, the cheetah and his dog friends are brought to a 100-yard run. We, the human observers, stand on the sides and watch the cheetah emerge from a truck, and race after what seemed like a toy rabbit that is on a very fast moving rope. The cheetah can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. It ran so fast, no one bothered trying to take photos of his run, but rather, everyone was taping the incredibly fast run on cell phones. Incredible!
We then walked up the elevator to a viewing platform area where we could see the entire African Woods and African Plains area of the Park. It was really lovely. After that, we walked down to the Nairobi Village which I also really enjoyed. The entrance had an enclosed space that made it seem as if we were inside a cave and behind some glass were little animals that were fluffy and cute. I think it was a nursery full of tiny baby animals. I can’t remember their names but they were adorable. I also liked watching the fast flitting parakeets that were stationed nearby!
We later entered a caged area that was open to the public and went inside the Petting Kraal. I took a brush and attempted to gently groom the little goats. I am not sure if they appreciated my efforts but I like to think of myself as a decent stylist. The goats were starting to give me annoyed looks for some reason, so we washed our hands at the washing stations outside the Kraal and we had a late lunch at the Oasis Deli. The food at the Park was actually reasonably priced and tasted pretty good! I am a vegetarian and I really enjoyed the cous cous salad with arugula and some mysterious substances which my mother called “exotic cheeses”.
Besides the African Tram, my other favorite part of the park was the gorilla exhibit. Watching the gorillas interact within the manmade habitat and with each other was fascinating. I enjoyed watching the mommy gorilla hold the baby gorilla very protectively and close to her chest. At one point, one of the larger male gorillas came over and seemed to push the mother gorilla over rather violently. We human visitors let out shouts of concern and alarm. But even as she fell to the side, she held onto her baby tightly and escaped into a shallow ravine, away from whatever power struggle or battle was about to begin above. Gorillas are so interesting and it was thrilling to observe how they interact and live.
The Safari Park closed at 5 p.m. and it was getting darker and colder. One thing that I really wanted to see, but it closed at 4 pm, was the Lorikeet Landing. However, before we left, we did stop by a small, tranquil lake full of light pink flamingos. They were dazzling. Right next to them, swimming quietly along, was an assortment of ducks and geese and some surprisingly energetic flying storks. It was a very lovely way to end a fun-filled, relaxing, and informative day. The animals appeared well cared for and any money charged for feeding the animals goes back to the cost of caring for them. I encourage everyone to please go to the website Endextinction.org/hope and learn more about how to conserve not only the environment but the different vital species that inhabit our environment. Together, as the website states, we can definitely turn things around! Now…next stop…Mega Drop!