A little over a month ago, I contacted Fossil Rim Wildlife Park out in good 'ol Glen Rose, Texas. I noticed, from perusing their site, that you could purchase "private" tours of their facility. Their private tour consists of your family, a tour guide, and your own Jeep (driven by said tour guide)--and they give you a one-on-one tour of the land. Sounded good, but I wanted to know if there was anything...well, CHEETAH-specific.
I spoke to a really nice lady who explained to me that no, they don't have anything like that--that just centers around the cheetahs, but why do I ask? So, I told her all about Jenna. How, since she was two, she's wanted to be a zooligist. How her love for the Four Big Cats--centered around cheetahs--has evolved into a lifeplan for her. How she knows not only what she's going to "be" when she grows up, but what she's going to study for her bachelors, masters, and PhD. About how she's worried about her standardized testing this year because she fears, if she doesn't do well, she won't get an internship at the Cheetah Conservation Fund when she's an undergrad. We chatted about Jen, and the lady again apologized, and we hung up.
About 15 minutes later, she called back. She stated that, in the midst of our previous conversation, the cheetah keeper had come into the office. He has listened the one side of our converstaion with peaked interest. After hanging up with me, he had asked the secretary what/whom we were talking about. When she relayed to him that it was a soon-to-be 9-year-old girl, he was floored. He offered to take us on a private tour of the cheetah facility. To go back and meet the breeding cheetahs; to see the new cubs; to see them close up, and (if they cooperate), to TOUCH A CHEETAH. Of course, I agreed.
We kept this secret from Jenna for over a month. :)
We arrived in Glen Rose on Friday evening--she still had no idea. Of course, as we got into our hotel room, she walked right to the desk and saw a flyer for the wildlife park. We feigned stupidity. I told her, "Oh, Jen!! Well, at least we know it's here, now. Now we can plan to visit!" Amazingly enough, she didn't beg.
The next morning, we got up bright and early, had breakfast, and set out. Our plan was to pass the entrance (so we knew where it was), then backtrack and point out the sign to Jenna (so we could tape her response). We're so crafty. We passed it, turned around, and headed back. The sign was large, and as I got the video camera ready, Chris said, "Hey, Jen...what's that? Isn't that the place you want to go?" She looked and said, "Yes," and was quiet. So he said, "So...do you want to go?" She just looked at us, and smiled really big--then said, "Yes!" We said, "Happy Birthday!" and headed in....
The park was amazing, and the people there went BEYOND our expectations. When I checked in, the lady at the desk said, "Oh!! Is this the little cheetah girl?! We've been so excited to have her!" At this point, Jenna had NO IDEA that we had arranged anything special. The tour guide pulled up in a vehicle that they use for group tours; they had reserved it for us, because it was named "Cheetah." :) So, we had a huge tour vehicle all to ourselves (rather than a standard-sized Jeep or SUV). We climbed in and began our tour.
The facility is amazing. Absolutely amazing. We were there before the park opens for regular car touring, so it was quiet and serene. The animals were walking right up to the vehicle, and we fed most of them from our hands. Because we paid for the private tour, we were able to veer off the tour path and go venture off to places where regular guests can't go--right up to fences to see the animals up close. It was amazing. During this time, the tour guide kept talking on his CB--asking "when will you be ready?" I knew he was talking to the cheetah keeper!
Eventually, we got to the cheetah area (there are 2--one where the non-breeding cheetahs run, and one where the breeders and new cheetahs are kept). We pulled up, and got out--As soon as we saw the cheetahs, Jenna's smile just lit up the world. There was one cheetah, in particular, that kept circling the run, then would stalk and charge the fence. It was pretty amazing. Jenna was just thrilled, and i have to say, we were, too---they are absolutely incredible animals. We stayed there for a while, and then got back in the vehicle to continue the tour. If we would have left then, Jenna would have been happy as can be, but there was more!
We looked at more animals, then veered off a path marked, "Staff Only." As we pulled back into the trees, there was a small office surrounded by.....CHEETAH PENS!! The guide asked Jenna, "How would you like to meet our cheetah keeper?" :) We met Jason, the keeper, and saw in his office, which is called the "cheetah kitchen." He had waited until we arrived so we could watch him give the cheetahs their snacks. Jenna was able to meet all the breeding cheetahs, see the newly-arrived cheetahs, and the new cubs. The best part: She actually got to pet a cheetah. Moose and Bruce were both raised by hand, and are as gentle as can be. They sat there, purring, meowing, and rubbing against the fence. The girls had their hands through the fence petting them. It was an awesome experience for all of us!!