A visit to Myrtle Beach Safari is a once in a life experience, we learned during our hosted visit. Unlike a zoo, you are able to meet and interact with animals instead of just watching them from a distance. Play with tiger cubs, meet wolf cubs, play ball with a chimpanzee, hug and elephant, and see a Liger. There are several different animal experiences to choose from, and your family will make lifelong memories while supporting wildlife conservation through T.I.G.E.R.S., the organization behind Myrtle Beach Safari.
The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) was founded in 1983 by Mahamayavi Bhagavan “Doc” Antle to promote global conservation education. Doc's idea is to give visitors the ability to interact and meet wild animals (many of whom are endangered) and educate the public about the importance of wildlife conservation and what they as citizens of the earth can do to help.
Before Booking a Tour
The wild encounters tour allows you to get up close and interact with the animals so to keep both you and them safe, there are several rules that must be followed. The tours are non-refundable so be sure you follow the guidelines so you have a great experience.
- Children under the age of 6 are NOT allowed on the tour
- No still cameras or video cameras are allowed
- cell phones are not allowed
- Do not wear bracelets, chains, long necklaces (anything that dangles)
- Avoid wearing white clothing on the tour
- Closed toe shoes are requires (no sandals or flip-flops)
Tours are offered three times a week and tour group size varies with the season. My family visited in mid-March and there were 26 people in our group. Tours during the summer can have up to 60 people per group. Regardless of the size, everyone will get up close and personal with all the animals.
Arrival and Check In Process
Once you book and pay for your tour you will receive an email with directions that include landmarks making Myrtle Beach Safari very easy to locate. The instructions explicitly asked us to stay in our car until we were asked to exit by a staff member. The check in process was quick and everyone who participates must sign a waiver before going on the tour.
There are bathrooms available at the check-in hut in the parking lot and at the lodge which is the first stop on the tour. It is definitely worth stopping to use the facilities.
Cameras and cell phones are not allowed; instead there are professional photographers and a videographer who come along with the group and capture every moment. There is an extra charge for a CD and DVD of your experience, but it is cheaper if you purchase it in advance, and in my opinion, worth the expense to have images of your visit. Our family had over 150 images on our CD plus video, which you are given the rights to print and share.
Part of the way through the tour we stopped for a snack and drink, and later, a simple lunch was provided. While we were never hungry, be sure to eat breakfast before you go.
Meeting the Animals
On the wild encounters tour you get up close and personal with a variety of species throughout your visit, which lasts approximately five hours.
In zoos, animals of different species rarely intermingle. The animals at the Safari are raised side by side so it was no surprise that 20 years ago, the first Liger was born on the property. The mother is a tiger and the father is a lion. The resulting offspring can get up to 900 pounds and stand 12 tall when on their back feet. The gene that controls growth is in the male tiger and the female lion so it is missing in a liger which explains its size. These giant cats have been lovingly raised and interact regularly with humans so we were able to get close but the Liger was one of two animals we didn't get to touch.
According to reports, there were less than 4000 tigers left in the wild in 2016. Myrtle Beach Safari is working to ensure these numbers go up and not down. They are actively breeding tigers to preserve DNA so if the wild population continues to decrease, there will still be tigers alive in captivity to prevent full extinction.
During the tour we were able to play with six different baby tigers of various ages. Not only was it fun for us, it is also good for the tigers and helps them socialize and learn to meet new people. Tours are given a maximum of three times per week to keep the experience fun and engaging for the animals.
Bubbles has lived at Myrtle Beach Safari since she was a baby. Bubbles, an African elephant, was saved by Doc when most of her herd was killed in the 1980s. He flew her home on a 747 and then drove her to the preserve in his truck. She grew up side by side with humans and enjoys playing with people. During the tour our family fed Bubbles a snack and even got to hug her trunk.
African Fish Eagle
Robert Johnson is the resident falconer. It took him two years to earn his certification and he is only the 56th person in the state of South Carolina to earn a license. The Eagle we saw was going to be killed by farmers in Africa because of overpopulation in the area. Instead, she and several others were captured and transported to Myrtle Beach Safari to educate the public.
I love watching Gibbons in the zoo. They are very active and always seem to have a great time playing with each other. This was the first time I've been this close to one. We even discovered they are ticklish!
Did you know that chimps like to paint? I didn't. Two young male chimps came to visit while we were finishing our lunch and demonstrated their painting skills with non-toxic paint on T-shirts. The chimpanzee brothers completed their masterpieces and we played a rousing game of catch with several large beach balls.
These are just the highlights from our visit. I don't want to spoil all the fun so I've left quite a bit of our visit out so you get to enjoy the surprise and delight that we felt as we moved from one area of the safari to another. Trust me when I say you will never forget your day.
Additional Opportunities for Animal Experiences
The wild encounters tour is only the beginning. If you have a passion for animals, consider a more intimate experience. You can even go on safari in Africa with the staff and see these majestic animals and more in their native habitat.
Swim with Bubbles the Elephant
During the summer, you can take a private tour and go swimming with Bubbles in her favorite watering hole. She loves to pick up her companions with her trunk and put them on her back to jump off into the water.
Night Safari Tour
This new tour started in the fall of 2017 and it includes dinner and drinks.
Go on Safari in South Africa with the T.I.G.E.R.S. Trainers
Travel to South Africa and experience the animals you met at the Myrtle Beach Safari park in the wild led by experienced guides. The trip includes a visit to Kruger National Park in South Africa. The next tour leaves the U.S. in November (2018).
Myrtle Beach Safari Essay Contest
Tours start at $299 per person, which may be out of reach for families. If you want to experience a wild encounters tour, and can't afford it, Myrtle Beach Safari is offering families the chance to win a free tour by writing an essay and entering it in their monthly essay contest. Click to read the full requirements and guidelines.
Fees Support Conservation
This adventure is probably the most expensive that I have ever reviewed. As I hope I've conveyed, it is a once in a lifetime experience, and there are few, if any other locations, were you can get this close to animals. There are people that travel internationally to Myrtle Beach just to take the Wild Encounters Tour. It is not comparable to a visit to a zoo.
So, why is it so expensive? The tours are small to ensure every visitor gets to interact with the animals. There are also only a few tours a week so the animals enjoy meeting visitors and the experience does not become a chore for them. It is a very intimate experience unlike anywhere else in the United States, if not the world.
The money earned goes directly to preservation efforts all over the world through the Rare Species Fund. So far over fifty different projects have been funded. In most instances, money is not sent directly to other countries. Instead, villages in need make specific requests, and then the items and equipment is purchased and then personally delivered so the money doesn't disappear along the way in the form of bribes, and taxes in third world countries. Recently, the Rare Species Fund rebuilt Soraya Research Station in the forests of Sumatra, which is home to tigers, orangutans, rhinos, elephants, as well as numerous other species.
Your family will never forget their wild encounters tour. My kids have been talking about it daily for several weeks now and I don't expect that to stop anytime soon.
Family Fun Facts
Doc Antle's Myrtle Beach Safari (Website)
Location: Myrtle Beach, SC (for the safety of the animals the exact location is only shared once you have booked a tour)
Tour Schedule: Tours run from March 3, 2018 to October 8, 2018. You can also tour Oct. 13, Oct 20, Oct 27, Nov. 4, Nov. 11, Nov. 24. Click HERE to book a tour.
Thank you to Myrtle Beach Safari for hosting our visit so that we could share this amazing experience with our readers. All thoughts and opinions are my own.