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Wild Animal Park Unveils Simulated Tour of Africa

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Aired 4/19/09

The San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park is inviting visitors aboard the African Express. That's a new bus tour through hundreds of acres of simulated forest and savannah in the San Pasqual Valley. KPBS Radio's Andrea Hsu has more.

Throughout the Wild Animal Park the sounds of nature interspersed with the music of Africa.

At Simba Station, visitors climb aboard the African Express for a 20-minute "Journey into Africa." That's the park's new exhibit that puts visitors at eye level with hundreds of African animals, including giraffe, rhinoceros, and ostrich. Curator Michael Mace says they've enhanced the animal habitat, building islands and planting trees.

Mace: So this is going to be great for our animals, it puts them in habitat that you'd normally see in the wild. So we're seeing all the great natural behaviors, which for us translates to our breeding successes.

Those successes include producing more rhinos than all the other zoos in North America combined. And breeding a number of species - like the African antelope, the addax - for release into the wild.

Aboard the African Express, Doug Hitchingham marvels at how close you get to the herds.

Hitchingham: Utterly fantastic. The other was good, but this is much better.

He's referring to the old monorail that took visitors around the perimeter of the park. Park officials say the technology was outdated and expensive to maintain. It was retired on Sunday after 35 years of service.

The new Journey into Africa exhibit comes with a price tag of $40 million -- more than it cost to open the park itself in 1972.

Park officials hope the experience will teach people about threats to African wildlife, as well as what can be done to help.

For KPBS, I'm Andrea Hsu.

(Photo: The San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park's new exhibit puts visitors at eye level with hundreds of African animals, including giraffe, rhinoceros, and ostrich. Andrea Hsu/KPBS ).

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