Forget the visas and the vaccinations. Never mind the jetlag or the expense of foreign travel. Exotic wildlife encounters can be experienced daily in America’s backyard.
At the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, Louisiana (an hour north of New Orleans), some 30 exotic and endangered species and over 3000 animals, roam free on 900 grassy acres. Herds of bison, giraffes, zebras, eland, lechwe, camels, llamas and seven types of deer are among visitors’ favorite sights. Unlike other wildlife centers where vehicles drive on roads, here visitors ride in tent-covered wagon trains to reach the animals. Without roads or set paths, groups at the savannah are ensured abundant animal encounters year-round.
Experienced guides explain fascinating and fun facts throughout the journey. For example, the neck of a giraffe, the tallest land mammal in the world, has seven vertebra – the same number as a human or a mouse.
The Global Wildlife Center focuses on learning through the sense of touch. The wagons stop frequently so that youngsters can safely pet the soft and curious noses of camels that eagerly pop their heads past the wagons’ side shades. Some animals love to play tug-of-war with the visitor’s small cups of feed. When the animal wins and the cup disappears, the feed can be easily replaced and refilled from a cache kept on board.
The Center hosts numerous school groups and works with troubled and at-risk children. They teach respect for nature and how gentle treatment of the animals has its own special reward.
“One at-risk child about six years old,” said Christina Cooper, Education & Development Director, “had never seen cattle in person, much less giraffes and camels and zebras [and] was absolutely terrified of our friendly furry creatures.” Christina sat the boy on her lap and explained that the giant Bactrian camel, “Aladdin,” was her friend, and like all animals just wanted some love, affection and food. “By the end of the tour he was running around the wagon, laughing and reaching out to touch all the animals he could.”
The Center’s website features the ELAND project for teachers, providing free lesson plans that focus on conservation, endangered species, diet, habitat and adaptation.
The non-profit Global Wildlife Center evolved from a block of land that foundation president, Ken Matherne, inherited from his father. The land was originally used as a hunting club and later for breeding thoroughbred horses. Matherne learned after talking with experts at the animal science department of Louisiana State University and touring wildlife parks around the country, that close confinement contributes to high animal death losses. As a result, his vision and the scope of his collection expanded into an attraction to educate and delight the public.
As a fundraiser, members are encouraged to camp out during the November bonfire when deadwood is gathered and burned to enhance the landscape. Santa and his helpers teach children about reindeer games during Christmas time. “The personal interaction with Global Wildlife Center’s animals,” said Christina Cooper, “has a way of touching people of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities.”
Global Wildlife Center, Ph: 985-624-WILD.
by Carolyn Thornton
Fall Issue/Volume 16