From chickens and deer to peacock and zebras, the Tennessee Safari Park has no shortage of peculiar animals to show. The privately owned park has over 700 feathered, shelled, and furry friends including its very own movie star.
The Tennessee Safari Park is the home of its own four-legged movie star. If you haven’t seen the movie Racing Stripes, it tells the uplifting story of a circus zebra, named Stripes, who is raised on a Kentucky horse farm. The farm is located right next to a racing track, so Stripes mistakenly begins to believe that he, too, is a racehorse. Eventually, Stripes, who may not have the legs of a racehorse but definitely has the heart, miraculously overcomes all odds and ends up winning the race. Well, you may have “herd” a fun little rumor that has long circulated claiming that the zebra featured in the movie Racing Stripes resides at the Safari Park. When I asked, simply for curiosity’s sake, about whether or not this was true, Jamie, an employee at the Park, assured me that it really was!
Jamie explained that Stripes is a type of zebra known as a ‘Damara Zebra.’ Damara Zebras, also known as Burschell’s Zebras, are a rare subspecies of the Plains Zebra, and the Safari Park is one of only three conservatories that breed them. Their distinct features include black and white stripes all over their bodies and fewer, lighter stripes on their legs. They are only one of many fascinating creatures that can be found roaming this expansive park in Alamo, Tennessee.
Because I wanted to see these animals for myself, I decided to make a trip to Alamo to visit the park. As I began my drive-through tour, I was immediately greeted by an intimidatingly tall ostrich. I apprehensively rolled my window down and it happily stuck its head into my car! Any fear I previously had suddenly disappeared as I realized that it didn’t want to hurt anybody...it just wanted food. As I continued down the long open road, I stopped frequently and stuck my bucket of food out of the window. The woman attending the ticket booth had kindly warned not to hold the bucket with your thumbs and I quickly figured out why—these animals were ruthless when it came to food! The two sizeable buckets of food the lady provided were gone before I was even halfway through the park (admittedly, I dropped one when an ostrich caught me by surprise), but that didn’t stop the animals from sticking their noses through the window to make sure I wasn’t hiding any.
As I approached a herd of alpacas, a traffic jam began to form behind me because these stubborn creatures had a tendency to stand in front of my car and stare at me for several minutes. The person behind me blew their horn and the alpacas didn’t even flinch. I couldn’t help but laugh — this park is not for the impatient!
As I pulled up beside a colossal buffalo, he endearingly left a trail of drool rolling down my window (you will definitely need a car wash after your visit)! My favorite part of the tour, however, was witnessing a tiny baby deer hopping over the grass after his running mother. The last thing I saw on the tour, right near the exit, was the towering giraffe with his long, black tongue extended as he waited for food.
The Tennessee Safari Park of Alamo, Tennessee, just off I-40, is rooted in familial history and humble beginnings. It all began when President Andrew Jackson gave a man named Claude H. Conley the property as a land grant in the 1800’s. Conley decided to name this 200-acre century farm “Hillcrest.” Conley had a natural and unabating love for animals and he instilled that love into his son, Claude M. Conley. With this love, M. Conley gradually grew a rare collection of animals himself, hoping to protect as many endangered animals as he could. His collection began very modestly with only a couple of peacocks. The collection gradually grew with pheasants, deer, and the like, and eventually expanded to include bison, zebras, antelopes, and many more species. In fact, in 1967, the Conley family made the first buffalo herd purchase in Tennessee.
Fast forward to the year 2007—with a love of animals ineviteably in his genes, Claude Sr. and his two sons had the idea of turning the farm into a park to educate the people of West TN about animals. Today, it’s safe to say the Conleys’ idea has come to fruition and then some.
Today, the park, located on Hillcrest Farm at 618 Conley Road in Bells, Tennessee, has over 700 animals and 80 different species. This makes it one of the largest collection of zoo animals Tennessee has to offer. Give yourself at least 2 hours to really experience all that the park has to offer. As you slowly travel along the farm’s 5 ½ mile long winding gravel road (and I mean slowly...the speed limit is a strict 5 miles per hour), you get an up-close and personal look at rare and endangered animals in their day-to-day lives. Not to mention, baby animals are being born all the time at the park. For instance, in late May, seven baby bison calves were born!
However, if the idea of curious (and hungry) creatures sticking their nose through your car window isn’t very appealing to you (I highly recommend trying it, however!), there are other ways to experience the park. For example, you can also leisurely travel through the zoo area to observe other primates, foxes, exotic birds, goats, sheep, and a lone turtle. You can even enter the goat and sheep exhibit and interact with them very up-close and personally.
The park also features a conservation area in which the safety of endangered animals is ensured. Some of these endangered species include the Pancake Tortoise, Indian Hog Deer, Western Grey Kangaroo, Brush Tailed Bettong, Nyala, Prehensile Tailed Skink, Bornean Bearded Pig, Arabian Oryx, Pere David Deer, Australian Brush Turkey, and many more.
In addition to the main attractions, the spacious park also contains a gift shop and the “Safari Grill” for when you inevitably work up an appetite. Tennessee Safari Park is conveniently open every day of the week and every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, providing you and your family with ample opportunities to come out and observe the vast array of animals the park has to offer (gates are open from 10 a.m - 4 p.m Monday-Saturday and 12 p.m - 4 p.m Sundays). However, Jamie kindly informed me that the best time to come is in the morning. “The morning time is when the animals are most active,” she explained. However, no matter what time you come, you are bound to come across countless exotic creatures.
My visit to the Safari Park was very enlightening—I had never gotten to see such gorgeous animals up close before and I would highly recommend visiting at least once. However, because you are merely a visitor of these gorgeous animals’ habitat, it is important to follow the safety rules and respect the animals. The park provides an educational and enlightening experience, making it the perfect place to bring your family, have a field trip, or to simply get away from everyday life and enjoy the simplicity that nature offers. Tickets cost $14/adult, $10/children ages 2-12, and free/children ages 1 and under (however, be sure to bring cash or check as cards are not accepted). If you have any questions, you can contact the park at (731) 696-4423 or visit their website at tennesseesafaripark.com. To see a complete list of the animals that call the Safari Park home, go to tennesseesafaripark.com/collection.html and to see a list of rules for the park, please visit tennesseesafaripark.com/rules-for-the-park.html.