I’ve never been much of a morning person, but when the svelte striped beast with dagger-sharp fangs smashed his paws against the cage door with a robust GRRRRRR, I snapped awake.  

Bright and bushy tailed, I was keyed in for the rest of the day thanks to my body’s fight or flight response.

And what a day it was!

 

I was joined on this animal safari by fellow Guru finalist, Tenille Taggart, who provided some much needed support when the going got tiger-tough.  It’s not easy to be on an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour that includes a guided golf cart tour and multiple animal feedings!  I was happy to have a shoulder to lean on.

The San Diego Zoo houses over 4,000 animals from more than 800 species over 107 acres.  The grounds are crisscrossed by four streets and nine trails, which take you from the hippos to the monkeys, across to the elephants, and everywhere in between. 

“Wait, I think we should have taken a right at the crocodiles and then a left at the gorillas to get to the hippos,” I sigh, exasperated, as Tenille and I pore over our map.  This zoo is enormous, so we were happy to leave it up to the experts.

The Inside Look Tour is an additional $69 per person, and takes you all over the zoo for a VIP behind-the-scenes experience.  Not only do you get a knowledgeable guide who chauffeurs you around to the best of the zoo, but you also get to see tigers in their homes! And feed camels! And jump the line at the giant pandas!

The best was the tigers.  Walking past the “Staff Only” sign and into the tiger’s den, we were merely feet from a svelte, purring tiger.  Hearing a tiger prusten up close, as it rubs its nose against the cage door left me speechless.  Tigers are such majestic and beautiful creatures, stately and composed.  They are also savage beasts, and it was not lost on me that the only thing stopping me from being mauled was a thin steel door with a sign kindly cautioning “Tigers in exhibit.”

And even though I know these big cats are not pets, I could not help but want to cuddle.

 

My mind was quickly taken off of the tigers as the day progressed. We fed carrots to a two-humped camel with ridiculously luscious eyelashes, and saw handsome polar bears, playful pandas, slumbering hyenas, ugly warthogs, smiling elephants, creepy vultures, a laughing kookaburra, and gay bonobos. 

And later, on the Backstage Pass tour ($99 supplement), we howled with a wolf, took a picture with a cheetah, fed a kangaroo (with pouch!), stuck our fingers in a rhino’s leathery folds and then high-fived pieces of lettuce into the same rhino’s toothless, sand-paper rough mouth.

The San Diego Zoo is the Disneyland of zoos. It’s big, it’s busy and it makes you dream of epic and incredible things. 

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