Take a wild ride at Gunma Safari Park
“Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!”
That line from “The Wizard of Oz” came to mind as I looked out my car window and saw ferocious creatures staring straight at me like I was a dinner platter on wheels.
The Gunma Safari Park in Gunma prefecture in Japan is unlike any zoo or other animal experience I’ve ever had. It’s a lot better.
The park features exotic creatures residing on 360,000 square meters of land, giving its visitors a taste of safari experience just a couple of hours northwest of Tokyo.
There is no hunting or killing involved in this safari, but you can pay to drive your own vehicle or take a bus through various animal habitats. Instead of the cramped cages of a typical zoo, the safari space is wide open. High fences between the habitats keep the species apart, so you won’t see a lion and a giraffe sharing the same space, but the animals can walk right up to your car.
think I ever imagined I’d have a hungry-looking wild beast just a few feet away from me.
The idea might sound a little unsettling at first, and it’s completely natural to worry that a tiger or bear might decide to make the silly humans in the car its next meal. However, once there, I was surprised by how calm the animals were, and the park staff looked ready to react if any animals got out of hand. I also realized that as long as I kept my windows up and didn’t do anything to agitate the animals, they were not likely to attack us.
What I really liked about the park compared with a typical zoo is that most of the animals seemed a lot more relaxed because of the extra space. Lions, giraffes, zebras, rhinoceros, elephants and antelope roam the sub-Saharan African habitats. Other habitats feature tigers, bears, buffalo and monkeys.
Seeing the lion pride up close was an awe-inspiring experience. With such a great view of these animals, I was able to appreciate the deep wounds and scars some of these lions have received, a sobering reminder of how vicious and deadly they can be. It was surreal to watch a lion just casually walk past my window ignoring me, knowing full well if I even attempted to step out of my car, I could easily be torn to shreds. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Feeling daring, my friends and I did the safari in my car instead of the park-operated bus. There is something liberating about driving your own car into a pack of deadly animals that gets your blood pumping. The colorful, animal-shaped buses are a perfect alternative if you want to add a greater sense of distance between man and beast, and they provide a feeding box that allows you to attract the animals closer.
While the animal habitats are the highlight of the park, it also has standard zoo-like displays where you can pet a lamb, feed grass to a llama or even give a tiger or lion some meat with tongs through a little opening.
There is also a small amusement park for kids with a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, bumper cars and other traditional fair activities.