Ten-year-old Caitlin leaned over the side of the safari wagon to pet an enormous, double-humped Bactrian camel and exclaimed, “His nose feels weird and his hair feels greasy!”
Caitlin and her family are on a safari-of-sorts at the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, Louisiana. This 900-acre, free-roaming conservation center is home to more than 4,000 exotic and endangered animals. Each year, 250,000 nature lovers visit the beautiful habitat and take the 90-minute ride in a covered, open-air wagon to see winged, striped and horned creatures move freely on the manicured grounds. The tour is part petting zoo, part biology lecture, part entertainment and a lot of fun.
Throughout the slow ride, visitors learn about the ecology of wildlife, the different personalities of many of the animals and the importance of preserving these precious creatures.
In one area, more than a dozen kangaroos hop around or sit quietly under the shade of a large tree. There are also families of giraffes, herds of American bison, Texas longhorns, cranes, llamas and many other rare animals who live peacefully at this Louisiana haven.
The center was the brainchild of Ken Matherne, who inherited the land from his father and began collecting exotic animals in 1989. He opened the gates to the public in 1991, and it is now considered the largest center of its kind in the United States. Matherne and his wife live and work on the grounds of the nonprofit facility.
In many cases, nearly extinct animals thrive at Global Wildlife, making an impact on the species. In 1989, with only 16 left in the world, the Father David Deer, a native of mainland China had almost disappeared. Matherne and his staff obtained five of these extremely rare deer and brought them to their refuge. Today, there are more than 200 Father David Deer roaming the Folsom sanctuary with several more due to be born. Visitors to the center can see these once almost-extinct animals soak in a nearby pond, or munch on the grass as the safari wagon rides by.
That is the mission of the Global Wildlife Center: to allow these majestic creatures to live freely while in a protected environment and to help man learn from this peaceable kingdom, enjoying these exotic and endangered animals in the most beautiful of settings.