Vision Quest Safari B&B: September 2010

Nancy and I made a midweek trip to the Vision Quest Safari B&B in Salinas, CA. We both love animals and enjoy interacting with them, so when I saw a small newspaper ad for the facility, I checked out their website and booked a room a few days later. (I was hoping to find out which one of the animals was the website designer. If you follow the link you will see what I mean.) Salinas is about 90 miles south of us, so it is an easy trip.

We arrived at the facility just before the one o'clock tour commenced. Anyone can go on this tour, but we saved $10 a head by being B&B guests. As far as I can determine, this company has three purposes in life beyond B&Bing: training animals for media work (movies, TV, advertisements), providing a sanctuary for African elephants that are no longer wanted for American circuses and zoos, and a dog and cat boarding operation that provides cash flow for the other activities. The tour was conducted by one of the trainers, who took us by most of the enclosures/cages and described a wide variety of animals, including baboons, capuchin monkeys, tapirs, porcupines, capybaras, camels, wallabies, kangaroos, black bears, servals, coatimundi, lynxes, tigers, lions, cougars, water buffalo, ostriches, zebras, and elephants. (The latter four were actually interacting in a multi-acre open area surrounded by an electric fence.) She pointed out some of the cinema and TV stars and answered quite a number of questions about the history and habits of all of the animals. It was a very enjoyable hour. At the end, for an additional fee of $5, we got to feed carrots to one of the African elephants, the dominant female, Buffy.

Inside our B&B tent
A young tapir
Lion (with some MGM credits)
A handsome camel
Capybara, my favorite rodent
African porcupine
Black bear
Bengal tiger

We checked in to our B&B tent, which was very similar to the one at the Safari West in Sonoma County that we visited a few years ago—nice wooden floors, wooden frame, nice king-size bed and other furniture, TV, refrigerator, fully electrified, with a complete bathroom, but all of the walls were canvas. (I neglected to photograph the outside of the tent, but it was identical to Safari West's, which you can see here.) There are four such tents widely separated and overlooking the elephant enclosure. We were in #2, the "Big Cat House," which I think had the best view. However, there were no other guests that night (a Wednesday). We hung out on the deck and watched the elephants and were amused to see that the lone zebra, named Jasmine, in the enclosure actively played around with the elephants. She played for an extended period with the giant bull, Butchie, who would bat her around with his trunk, in a few cases lifting her almost completely from the ground. She bit him repeatedly on the nose, which has left some permanent scars, but it's obvious he enjoys the relationship, because we saw him get down on his knees so he could tussle on more even terms. Our trainer said that she was put into the enclosure as somewhat of a disciplinary action, but she quickly began to think of herself as an elephant, so she has stayed there ever since. We walked around the large enclosure and the male ostrich followed us intently on the inside of the fence, stopping to do a very elaborate dance. I assumed that he was sexually interested in me, but a trainer told us later that that was a territorial protection dance, so I was disappointed. The trainer said that the ostrich is very stupid, with a brain smaller than his eyeball.

Elephants and water buffalo
Butchie and Jasmine
Butchie and Jasmine playing

Around four o'clock, the trainers walked a couple of animals up to our tent on leashes, giving them some exercise, but also allowing us a closer look, although we were not allowed to get off of our deck to pet them or anything. First was a serval, which was really like a very nice large house cat (and in fact they are used for crossbreeding with house cats, resulting in a breed called Savannah cat, which the trainer does not recommend doing because they are troublesome house pets). The second was a baboon who was actually very friendly. She embraced the trainer's leg, and separating her sock and pant-leg, helped groom her leg hair. :-) At 5:30 PM, we met the owner of the facility and participated in "Butchie's Bedtime," in which we watched the five African elephants lead themselves into the barns where they would sleep for the night. They demonstrated the behavior you will see in circuses, where they proceeded in an orderly line, each holding the tail of the elephant in front. Although the elephants got their own hay and some sort of vegetable pellets, we got a big armload of rolls and bread to feed them ourselves. I was particularly impressed by Butchie, who stood 10 feet tall at his shoulders, so he towered over me. The trainer told me that he was not an exceptionally large male elephant and some of them can reach 12 feet tall. All I know is that he could've squashed me like a bug, but he was very sweet. The other two elephants in this barn were named Christie and Paula, and they were also very nice. Paula had some sort of an odd skin condition that the trainer referred to as elephant eczema. When we got to touch the elephants' trunks, we found that their skin was very, very rough, and the little hairs sticking out were of wire brush consistency.

Serval visiting our deck
Affectionate baboon at our deck
Elephants marching to bedtime
Nancy and Paula
Hal and Butchie

No dinner is served at the B&B, so we drove to downtown Salinas and selected a restaurant somewhat at random from a list of recommendations. Elli's had pretty decent food in giant portions, so we enjoyed ourselves. We also enjoyed a package of double stuffed mint Oreos for dessert! (Hey, this was a mini vacation. Calories do not count.) Sleeping in the tent was pleasant enough, even though it got down to about 50° outside. There was an electric blanket as well as a powerful heater. At about 5 AM, the big cats were up, so we were serenaded by about six lions and tigers roaring at each other. If it happened every day, it would be somewhat annoying, but as a unique experience it was cool. We somehow managed to sleep until after 7 and then got up to watch the elephants from our deck. They were brought out one by one and scrubbed and bathed before going to their enclosure. Once that was all done, the smallest of the female elephants, named Malinka, I think, brought us continental breakfast at our cabin, as well as a large selection of fruits that we got to feed to her as a reward. She would take whole bananas and apples and down them with a single crunch.

We had a great time at the oddly named Vision Quest Safari B&B and would recommend it to anyone else in the San Francisco Bay Area. By the way, I took a few short videos with my iPhone camera and once I figure out how to get those embedded into the webpage, I will upload them. So check back after a week or so.