Badaling Safari: Too Thrilling to be Safe

On Friday we went on a team-building event - tree planting and then a safari at 八达岭野生动物世界, a wild animal park north of Beijing. The tree-planting part was great - a light snow was falling and it was absolutely beautiful. I remember hoping that you'd be able to tell from the pictures that it was snowing that day. Yeah, be careful what you wish for. (Thanks to Aaron, Yong and Xue for these pictures!)
planting trees

Then we loaded onto park buses and started through the wild animal park.

The first stop on the safari was the wolf exhibit.

Next brown bears. Awesome.
bear in snow

As our tour progressed the snow was falling harder and harder, and pretty soon it was what I would call by Alabama standards a blizzard. And the road through the safari park was hilly and narrow.
snow scene

Next stop was the lions' den. Ferocious. And do you see how close we were to them? These shots were not taken with a telephoto lens. The animals were literally right outside our window, not caged in or anything.

Then the tiger exhibit. Way cool.

And then the bus got stuck in the snow.

And that was terrifying. Because we couldn't get out and push the bus. Couldn't shovel snow. Because we were in the tiger exhibit and tigers were walking all around the bus. Then our bus slid back a bit and off the road and leaned up against a tree. A thick branch of the tree pushed hard against one of the sliding glass windows and I had a terrifying foreshadowing that the window could shatter and a tiger could climb through it and ...

The bus driver and our tour guide were not exactly confidence-inspiring. They had called the park manager to come get us but when no one had showed up to help us after half an hour, the driver and guide seemed helpless.

I sent my husband a text message that said, "stuck in snow at the badaling safari. surrounded by tigers. if i don't make it out, please remarry. i love you." Apparently I didn't do a very good job communicating the gravity of the situation because he replied "You're funny. What's our ebay password?"

Finally a park manager did arrive and climbed from the window of his jeep through the window of our bus. He managed to navigate the bus away from the tree without breaking the window, thank God. Then he spent the next hour-and-a-half backing the bus out of the park inch by inch down the snowy road. Fortunately he managed this feat without killing any humans or animals.

So what did I learn from this? I learned that you can't make assumptions about safety. You can't assume that just because someone opened a safari park that they maintain a fleet of good vehicles, or train their staff or have evacuation plans in place in case the unthinkable happens. If something seems too thrilling to be safe, it probably is...

And I learned, once again, that my team can show good humor in the face of adversity. As we were waiting for the park staff to arrive and wondering if we would ever get out of this situation alive, one guy from the back laughed, "This will be something to blog about!"


No one gave the lions a blanket? I guess they don't encounter snow blizzards to often in Africa! ;-)

If you are still following the skinny bitches diet, the apparently well fed tigers won't find you appetizing!! :-D I guess that's what you hubby meant in the reply.

Posted by Madhan Kumar on March 31, 2008 at 10:32 AM CST #

Great story telling! I actually ought to go and visit that park. There are reports they're still live feeding the tigers (you can find videos on line) which is forbidden in China since 2006. The main problem is that they do it just as a show for the visitors and twice a day during peak time. So those tigers are over fed and the poor cows suffer terribly during the process. Not a great park in terms of animal concerns apparently neither. I wonder if it'd be possible to just get the thing shut down here...

Posted by Frederic Muller on March 31, 2008 at 10:52 AM CST #

You know Maddy when the lions were looking in the windows at us, I was trying to look as skinny and unappetizing as possible. :)

Fred, on a previous visit to this park I did see them feed a sheep to the lions. They'll do it for 300 RMB. The sheep didn't suffer much though, I can tell you that for sure. From the time it was thrown out of the jeep until it was torn to pieces, it was at most 10 seconds. I heard someone say it was going to be shut down anyway, and then I heard someone say they were going to open another branch south of Beijing. I think Beijing would be better off without this attraction though, seriously.

Posted by melanie gao on March 31, 2008 at 01:44 PM CST #

It looks like the tigers were well fed enough to give you guys a pass :) Quite some adventure nonetheless!

Posted by Shubho on March 31, 2008 at 06:27 PM CST #

You're right Shubho, they were well fed. And I think they were a little lethargic due to the cold. Thank God. :)

Posted by melanie gao on April 01, 2008 at 01:06 AM CST #

OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! wow wow wow. this is huge. i can't even imagine, I would have been beyond terrified. I love your husband's response though - I think David would say the same thing.

Posted by christin on April 02, 2008 at 12:28 AM CST #

This is so China - I love it. I would have had to pee, and would have been contemplating my chances against the tiger...

Posted by Dalton on April 03, 2008 at 10:24 AM CST #

What a fantastic story, Melanie. Of course, it was filed on March 31st, right before the first day in April and... :-)

Still, that lion looks pretty cold in the picture!

Posted by David Comay on April 10, 2008 at 11:49 PM CST #

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