Touching Tigers: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Safari Experience in South Carolina

There are certain experiences that are so bucket list worthy they’re virtually life changing. Interacting with exotic animals is one of those things. While you may think you need to go to Thailand to meet elephants or Africa to experience lions in the wild, in fact, you just need to go to South Carolina to find a protected tiger reserve.

Myrtle Beach Safari is a completely unique animal experience where you get to interact with some of the rarest species on earth. Home to 100+ creatures (most of which are big cats), you can cuddle baby tigers, hug wolf cubs, watch tigers swim, play ball with monkeys, feed an elephant, see a falconry demonstration, and even meet a 900 lb. liger (Napoleon Dynamite was right, they do exist. And just further proof you can’t help who you fall in love with).

The animal ambassadors at Myrtle Beach Safari are virtual celebrities. They make regular appearances on the Late Show and have starred in big-name blockbusters like Ace Ventura, Dr. Doolittle (fun fact: Eddie Murphy is scared of animals), and a number of commercials. If you’ve seen any sort of animal on the silver screen, it’s very likely it came from Myrtle Beach Safari. The trainers have produced shows with National Geographic, Animal Planet, and all the major networks to showcase these majestic creatures in all their glory, which certainly lends itself to their credibility as premier animal experts.

What is the Wild Encounters Tour at Myrtle Beach Safari Like?

You’re ushered into an immaculate safari lodge that looks just like you stepped into Africa. There are video screens highlighting the team’s conservation efforts and shows the animals have been featured on. You’re given Cuban coffee and the ground rules are explained. The liger appears through the glass window, signaling the start of the adventure. For almost five hours, you’re paraded around the compound in your photo group to different habitats in what I can only describe as part animal show (with some truly terrible puns), part animal meet and greet.

You’re brought up to the giant liger who wows with his massive size. A cheetah and a few other predators are brought out to marvel at. Everyone is sat in a circle as baby tigers crawl across your lap. The wolf cubs and bigger pack animals are paraded around. Then it’s off to the races to watch as the big cats show off their grace and run speed. A falconry demo takes place. You take turns feeding Bubbles the elephant and watching her indulge in candy and Kool-Aid. Monkeys hit beach balls back and forth and finger paint t-shirts (a cool, completely unexpected souvenir). Tigers swim with the trainers in an elaborate glass aquarium.

It’s a well orchestrated production, with plenty of snack breaks and photographers following you around to snap every possible interaction. The animals are kept on leashes under the watchful eye of trainers equipped with toys, snacks, and bottles of milk they hand feed.

Is Myrtle Beach Safari Worth the Price?

According to reviews, most people would say it is absolutely worth the price. It’s not cheap (tours start at $299), but it is definitely one of those experiences you’ll remember forever (and certainly more affordable than flying to Africa). Is it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Absolutely. Could I look at baby animals all day, every day? Of course.

Were there were things I didn’t like? Yes. Not being able to bring in cell phones or personal cameras for one, and the strict clothing guidelines, both supposedly for safety reasons.

It is also very methodical, you line up, see each animal, take a picture, and they’re on to the next person. There’s not a lot of opportunity for genuine engagement or freedom to roam, also presumably for safety reasons. Because of that, it isn’t a very personal experience (more one-on-one time with the animals starts at $5,000) so make sure you know what you’re signing up for.

Is Myrtle Beach Safari Ethical?

People will always have issues with animals being kept in captivity just like they have contention for animals being kept in a zoo. There’s just something icky thinking about animals being locked up, no matter how nice the facility appears. But as the staff explained, this is a captive breeding facility more than anything else. A lot of these species can’t survive in the wild anymore and they truly believe they’re doing important conservation work.

There’s no doubt that everyone here is passionate about animal conservation. The trainers live and breathe with the animals 24/7 in order to develop that close, familial bond. They sleep together and grow up around one another. Of course, they all wish these animals could survive on their own in the wild, but it’s just unrealistic with human poachers and other environmental factors causing extinction. We’re at the tipping point of some of these species being wiped out forever so whatever you think about the ethics of what they’re doing, they’re ensuring these species exist for future generations. Is it playing god? Maybe, but so are the horrible humans who do the killing for completely selfish reasons.

Are animals like this meant to be cuddled and fawned over for photos? Probably not, but could you really resist that face (be honest)? These animals, in particular, were raised by humans and this is what they know. From what I saw, they were so distracted with food and toys they barely noticed there were even people around. It’s their norm, and they didn’t appear to be any worse off because of it. That said; people have strong opinions about animal experiences. If you’re thinking about participating in any form of animal tourism, do your homework and decide for yourself whether you believe it’s ethical.

Special thanks to Visit Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach Safari for providing this amazing experience. All photos belong to Myrtle Beach Safari. All opinions are my own.

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