Folsom Safari: An Oasis of Wildness
Photo by Tarani Duncan
There’s a bridge just past Tangipahoa parish line where sun-kissed southern boys jump from the hard-packed banks below. On the surface, this place, just like any other you’ll encounter on the Northshore, seems about as far from Africa as you’ll ever be.
But don’t let Confederate flags and incessant praises of Dixie fool you. There are zebras in them there hills.
And the best part? Any day of the week, covered wagons wait in Louisiana sunshine to take you and your closest travel companions deep into the hollers of a 900-acre animal conservatory that’s home to over 4,000 different herbivores.
The Global Wildlife Center (26389 Hwy. 40, Folsom 70437) opened to visitors in 1991 under the aegis of Ken Matherne. Matherne, a local philanthropist and animal lover, originally began collecting exotic creatures in 1989 on land inherited from his father. The center, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, is now considered the largest of its kind in America.
Think Jurassic Park meets a halcyon hay ride with a little helpin’ of Manifest Destiny. Though the center is located only about five minutes west of the Tammany/Tangipahoa parish line, the massive property mimics the great expanses of a sub-Saharan wilderness more than it resembles the zoo I originally expected it to be.
Though they’re not located on the safari route, it’d be a shame to miss Global’s stationary exhibits.
Directly behind the visitors’ center is a tortoise exhibit and a pond for viewing leviathan-sized koi and catfish.
Weighing in somewhere around 100 pugilistic pounds, Global’s kangaroos can be found socializing in an enclosure just behind the gift shop.
There are two ways to explore the property - either on a public wagon tour or a private pinzgauer tour.
Though the public wagon tour offers a very intimate view of the animals and the tour guide gives an impressive amount of information, the pinz tour is a more personalized way to view the property with up to eight of your closest friends.
Also, on a private pinz tour, you’re more likely to get a close-up view of the giraffes than you are on the wagon tour.
More information on ways to tour Global can be found here.
There are two main seasons at the reserve: birthing and running season.
Starting in April with shaky-legged Father David fawn and ending in late June with the endless squeaking of baby Iranian fallow deer, birthing season is the most adorable time in the conservatory.
The prequel to this season, running season, when the property’s 4,000 furry residents begin competing for mates, is an exciting time. During this mild-weathered spell, tensions on the property run high. The expanses are filled with the thundering of males colliding in the name of procreation.
On the Range - Preservation at Work
Aside from witnessing a fallow deer giving birth, one of the most moving spectacles I encountered during my time at Global was bearing witness to a herd of Father David deer stampeding through marshy water.
At one time only 16 of these wiry pelted deer existed in the world. Today Global boasts the second-largest population on the planet. Now any time you tour the property you can expect to see over 500 of these majestic wetland animals.
Leave your shiny stuff at home or in the car. The property’s one ominvore, the rhea bird, is lover of all things luminescent. So hide your keys, fancy watch and earrings--for anything that shines can easily fall victim to earth’s fourth largest flightless bird or its spawn.
Eat before you come. Picnicking is not permitted on the property.
In a wagon the Louisiana sun rivals that of the Serengeti. If at all possible, take the earlier tour versus the midday tour as not to scorch yourself. During the summer months the center provides “beat the heat” tours. These tours come highly recommended by an incredibly affable yet red-faced staff member.
Don’t trust your GPS! For some reason satellites try to take you to the junction of Highway 437 and Highway 40 instead of Global’s property. However, the conservatory is located about 15 minutes west of this junction a little past Folsom.
Buy a bucket of feed. When you do, portion it. From a lonely corn-less corner of your wagon, when camels and cape elands are herding around your friends and not you, you’ll really wish you had.
After an hour and a half of petting wild animals, it’s not a bad idea to sprinkle some extra hand sanitizer on yourself before hitting the road.
For fleeting images of bison, kudus and long-horns check out Global Wildlife Center any ol’ day. From the internet, you can see home on the range by clicking here.
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