A Big Thank You to Out of Africa Wildlife Park
By Lisa Peters
I need to give Out of Africa Wildlife Park a big THANK YOU for a wonderful Saturday with friends and family as well as helping me get over a very big phobia – snakes! Most of the people that know me already know that Out of Africa is one of my favorite places in the Verde Valley, but what most people don’t know is that I never, and I mean never, go to the Giant Snake Show at the park, well that is until last Saturday!
It all started out as a spur of the moment kind of thing, my friend’s parents were in town and we were looking for something fun they would enjoy. My friends father (Ben) is a photographer, and we all love animals, so what better place than Out of Africa. There would be plenty of fun photo ops and of course lots of animals to admire.
When we arrived at the park we decided the first thing we would do is take the African Bush Safari, it is the best way to introduce people to the park. You get to feed a very friendly giraffe, I believe his name is Pilgrim, carrots. If you’re lucky you may even get a giraffe kiss. The giraffe seemed particularly fond of Ben and his camera! Laughter definitely rang out among us with every kiss. The Zebras seemed to be in a particularly good mood that day as well, they were out and about enjoying the day, stopping long enough from their wanderings to say hello and let us snap a few pictures. There were plenty of animals to enjoy on the safari including African sable antelopes, fallow deer and I even got a sneak peek at Boom Boom (My personal favorite), a White Rhino.
After the Safari it was time for the ultimate in big cat excitement “Tiger Splash”! For those of you who do not know, “Tiger Splash” is one of the most popular attractions at the Park. Bengal tigers, Siberian tigers and other big cats interact in a predator/prey relationship with their caretakers, romping and splashing in a 35-foot by 50-foot pool. Through the live narration, you’ll discover how instincts, intellect and feelings interact to form spontaneous, natural behavior. We enjoyed the show, how could we not? I love watching the little kids around us at the show. They always have such a look of wonder and amazement. After the show is when I found out that everyone (except me) wanted to go to the “Giant Snake Show“. Oh boy, no choice, I had to go.
We went to Critter Court and lined up along the fence with everyone else. We watched as the handlers carried in a very large container. My palms started to sweat, what do they have in there? It’s gotta be one of those human eating, bone crunching, heart stopping creatures from below. Okay, I know that sounds absolutely insane to most people, but if you’re afraid of snakes you would totally understand the thought process. Then to our delight Dean Harrison entered center stage carrying a small square covered basket (Dean and Prayeri Harrison founded Out of Africa Wildlife Park). If anyone could have put my mind at ease it would be Dean, his knowledge and experience with all creatures big and small is amazing. So, Dean opened the little container first. My mind was hoping for a garter snake, but we know better than that. Out came a viper, I wish I could tell you what kind or where it was from, but to be honest with you things got a little blurry at that point. I was amazed but not surprised at how easily Dean handled the snake. He carried it around the fence for everyone to see and then put it on the ground. He started telling us facts about the snake, I tried to listen but I was too busy watching the viper on the ground, you know, making sure it didn’t jump into the crowd and get me. (I know that is ridiculous, but the mind does what the mind does!)
After the viper went back into the container Dean called on some people to come in the courtyard with him to see what was in the big container. A group of 7 were chosen to circle the container and lift out a 110 pound Python. I almost passed out. They carried it around the fence for everyone to see. When it came close to our area, I stepped back but stayed close enough to take a look. At that point my curiosity got the best of me. We found out that the Python was a rescue, as many of the animals at Out of Africa are. Some criminals actually used the snake to protect their Meth. Now I may not like snakes, but all creatures deserve respect in my book. My heart actually felt a little something at that point, but my brain was still in phobia land. Then it happened, Dean looked out into the crown and asked “Who’s afraid of snakes, raise your hand”? Well, I was not born yesterday! My hand went immediately in my pocket as I tried to melt into the crowd. If it hadn’t been for my friend Kitty, I would have gotten away with it. However unbeknownst to me there she was, standing behind me pointing at me letting Dean and the world know I was a big scaredy cat! Well, that is all Dean needed. He called me into the courtyard with the python and several other people who were afraid of snakes. I had to go in, I mean there were little kids brave enough to do it!
I walked slowly to the entrance gate, heart pumping, palms sweating. I forced my feet to walk and before I knew it, there I was in the courtyard with the python. Boy was I dizzy! Dean called someone up to pet the snake, she was pretty scared but Dean called a child to take the women by the hand and touch the snake. She picked the middle of the snake, I would have too. Then Dean called on another, but this time he asked the person to pet the snake on the head. That was enough for me, I tried with all my might to hide in the gathering (by the way, that never works)! Who did he call on next? You guessed it, me. He wanted me to pet the snake on the head too! I tried to get him to let me pet him anywhere else but Dean was not having it. I know the fear is all in my mind but really, on the head? Dean called on a child to help me. This cute little girl came up and grabbed my hand and led me to the python. I couldn’t let the little one down. We gently placed our hands on the snake’s head, to my surprise I did not die. It was rather smooth, some of the fear started receding. I petted the snake again, not too bad. Then we all assisted in picking up the snake, even me. I was not scared at that point. I wanted to pet the snake some more. When we put the snake back down, Dean asked how we would feel if we would have dropped the python. That’s when I knew something had changed. My heart went out to this rescue snake. I would have felt horrible if we would have dropped it. Now I’m not saying that all the fear is gone, I mean I am not going to go looking for snakes to pet, but I won’t be as scared when a king snake visits my garage. (That happens occasionally in Cottonwood, Arizona).
So, thank you Dean, the little girl who held my hand and all the staff at Out of Africa for helping me with my phobia and giving everyone in our party a wonderful day at the Park. We will be back soon and you’ll see me at the next Giant Snake Show!