On a beautiful winter’s day recently I experienced a little bit of Africa and other exotic locations in the rolling hills of East Texas. My destination was Cherokee Trace Wild Animal Park, just east of Jacksonville, a 300-acre preserve and drive-thru safari.
“The safari as it is today was started in 2003. It is still owned by the same family,” said Guest Services Manager Andy Christopher. The business was born of a love of animals and the desire to have an enjoyable career.
“There are approximately 600 animals at Cherokee Trace, composed of about three dozen different species,” Christopher said.
With each admission, guests are given a bag of food and instructed to toss the nuggets out vehicle windows to the animals.
Joined by my son and five-year-old granddaughter, we set out to explore the preserve on a self-guided drive through the hills and open savannahs. The three of us tossed the food at the feet of the many hooved animals including common eland, axis deer, blackbucks, fallow deer, lechwes and nilgais.
At one point I was turning around in my seat watching my granddaughter toss food out the window. When I faced forward again, a zebra was within inches of my face patiently waiting for a handout. It is such a thrill to experience nature in such a peaceful way.
All the animals were patient and most waited for the food to be tossed in their direction. I have been on safari in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. There is nothing like seeing animals close up. I was thrilled to again see these magnificent animals and to share the experience with my son and granddaughter.
It took us nearly two hours to make our way along miles of the red clay roads. We passed exotic ducks, rheas and emus; domestic favorites including llamas, elk and miniature donkeys; collared peccaries, red kangaroos and capybaras; wildebeests, yaks and aoudads; and other species.
The park is well maintained, the animals enchanting, and the employees friendly and professional. If you ever find yourself in East Texas, visit this animal reserve for a wonderful day with the animals.