Last November we had an opportunity to use the giveaway from a SF Giants Baseball Game we attended, Two For One Flying Voucher presented by Alaska Airlines! I’ll save the voucher story for another day, but needless to say my wife was industrious, finding a way we could use it, in spite of all the attached restrictions! We went to Texas to see three Presidential Libraries – yes more stories promised about those.
We had the basic plan, but we needed to fill our days with more, besides the libraries are in three separate cities, miles apart. We started looking into what’s in Texas besides the Libraries. We found, amongst a lot of other things, the Dallas Zoo, and of special interest they offer Half-day Group Photo Safaris! The Safaris are limited to 15 individuals, and are lead by the Zoo’s very own staff photographer, Cathy Burkey. There are only a few dates each year that these are offered. Coincidentally, our dates in Texas included the last one of 2018. Sign me up, I’m there!
It was a COLD Morning in Dallas, 36 °F, but we were not deterred, surely we would see animals! We arrived a little early, and the Zoo was bustling with activity, there was a community event going on and kids were running all over, parents chasing around after, none seemed to be cold! BRRR….we were cold! As we unloaded our camera gear we saw a few other people taking out tri-pods and cameras, we knew we were in the right place. We collected ourselves near the gate to enter, and checked in with the lady there…”Photo Safrari?”, with emphasis on the question…”News to me, I’ll have to get back with you in a minute.” She called on the walkie talkie, as we heard her ask, “There’s a group out here for a photo safari? That’s news to me!” Well, we shook it off along with the chill, it wasn’t even 8 am, we were just eager, I was just eager! There was a man in our group who had been here several times before, he assured us it would be a wonderful experience and that “Cathy” was wonderful too. And just then he looked up and said, “There’s Cathy, now!” She drove up in a golf cart and explained we could put our gear in the back, this helped so much with the rest of the day, I had been worried about being sore after carrying my pack of gear and tri-pod for 4 hours, now all I had to carry was the camera and lens!
Cathy Burkey introduced herself and then found out who each of our group were. She had ideas from the communications and Emails she’d received, plus there were those who had been here before. Great sign, I thought, repeat customers! There were ten in our group, and I think that was including Cathy. We covered the basic rules and safety information and we were off to the Tiger Exhibit.
It was a short walk from the gate to the tiger habitat. We met a couple of the handlers, they explained the temperature needed to get to 40 °F , before the tiger would be let out for us to photograph. But it was at 39 °F, so it wouldn’t be long. We were given some more rules, like slowly move away from the fence when the tiger gets within 5 feet away, “Oh My! Is it dangerous?”, I asked, they responded, “Not so much, but you might get sprayed, and it could antagonize our tiger, and nobody wants that.” They lead us to a secluded area that the public doesn’t have access to, with only a chain link fence between us and the beautiful tiger. We had at least 50 feet of fence line to spread out along. We stood and kneeled right up at the fence with our lenses trained on the magnificent cat! We took pictures and more pictures, moving about to change our angles. Cathy helped us, with suggestions on how to better our images, and even helped me with the settings to improve the shots I was getting. Thanks Cathy for the hands-on instruction! We had quite the show from our special guest, he loves to roll around in the straw!
It was time to move on, we had many more animals to see and take pictures of. We went next to a pair of Asian Otters, followed by birds in the aviary, Mandrills, Gorillas, and finally Chimpanzees. Each of these experiences was as wonderful as the tiger. Their handlers had set up “enrichment” opportunities for their particular animals. The setting out (and hiding), of food or toys. Plus the animals had not been let out until we were in place, definitely ensuring great photographic experiences for us, as they searched, foraged and played!
We were not rushed around from exhibit to the next, we were able to take our time, enjoy the animals, learn from their handlers, observe and photograph. We paid extra for the safari and I’d say it was well worth it! By the way, the admission included the remainder of the day at the zoo. We had lunch next to the lions and wandered around for another hour taking more pictures of God’s beautiful creatures, great and small. I’d love to be a repeat participant at this event at the Dallas Zoo.