African Safari Wildlife Park, Beppu, Oita Prefecture, Kyushuアフリカンサファリ
Beppu is most famous for its multitude of onsen (hot spring baths) and its jigoku, boiling hot spring ponds in the Kannawa section of the town. Those Kannawa jigoku (hells) are major tourist spots and their proprietors make the best of the generous supply of subterranean heat by adding greenhouses with tropical plants and little zoos with tropical animals to their premises to attract more visitors. Crocodiles, hippos and the like are announced as sideshow attractions on garish Kannawa signboards.
The animals lazily lie in the sun or take a dip in the warmed-up water. There is not much else for them to do. They are kept in small confines while the visitors walk by.
The African Safari Wildlife Park a few miles outside of Beppu employs a very different concept. Here, the visitors are the ones who have to stay in their small enclosures while the animals roam freely. Well, to a certain degree. This is the Tsukahara Plain (Tsukahara Kogen) between Beppu and Yufuin and not the Kalahari Desert. So, Japanese rules apply.
There are two ways to visit the park: one can drive through it in one's own car or one can take a park bus.
Touring the Park
The buses are designed to look like huge exotic animals - in a decidedly kitschy / campy way. They have big windows and heavy metal bars are bolted to them. But the glass panes can be opened. One of the attractions of riding such a bus is that you can feed the animals through the bus windows.
It's a bit more of an adventure to go through the park by car. You buy your ticket and you get informed to drive very, very slowly and that no matter what, you are not allowed to open the window or to get out of the car on your own under any circumstances while inside the park. If any problem arises, there will plenty of park rangers available to help you.
You drive to a big chain-link wire gate. The gate slides open, you drive into the security zone. The first gate closes behind you, the gate in front opens. Now you are inside the first section.
While some animals can freely mix in certain zones, other animals have to be kept separate from each other. Because the lions would hunt the gazelles, the cheetahs might not get along with with the tigers.
After you cross the zone for sheep, deer and other harmless grass-eaters, it starts to get interesting. You enter the area of the bears. Big brown and black bears from overseas, not those small bears native to Japan. Against the backdrop of the impressive Yufu-dake looming over the Tsukahara Plain, they freely do their bear business.
You forgot to take your camera out of the trunk of the car? Too late now. The animals out there are real wild animals. At short intervals, park ranger SUVs painted in a zebra-style black and white stripe look are parked. Make a wrong move and the rangers will quickly get you back to follow the approved route.
Soon, you arrive at the next gate. It opens, you enter the neutral zone. The gate closes and the gate in front of you opens.
If some bear would by any chance enter the neutral zone following you, you would have to wait until the rangers have chased him back to his territory. The next gate opens only when everything is absolutely the way the park rules spell it out. Can't have a bear in the tiger zone, after all, they might kill each other.
The tigers. They look like strong Siberian ones. Did you clean the car's windows before you entered? You got to take your pics with the glass up.
Rumors circulate that at some point years back a park visitor stepped out in the tiger zone and was promptly attacked and torn to pieces by the beasts. Might that be true? Who knows. But the rumor certainly helps the park to enforce the rules.
Cheetahs, Elephants, Giraffes
Next gate. Next neutral zone. Gate to the new zone. You can't help it but it starts feeling like driving through a prison camp. A prison camp in beautiful nature and designed to prevent the inmates from getting at each other but a prison camp nonetheless.
Enter the cheetahs. Strolling around their zone with eager eyes and you know that they are fast.
Gate. Neutral zone. New gate. Elephants, rhinos and giraffe live together in one zone. That is the zone with the most ranger cars parked in. No matter how strong a tiger is, no matter how fast a cheetah is, they can't do you any harm as long as you stay in the car with the windows closed.
But if you anger an elephant or one of those huge rhinos your car might not be that much of a protection. The rangers make sure to keep those giants happy and no untoward incident has ever been reported.
Eventually, you make it to the gazelles, the antelopes and camels. They peacefully live together. But only in the sense that the species don't attack each other. Some of the gazelles and antelopes have only one horn - but that doesn't turn them exactly into some sort of mystical unicorns. It means most likely that they lost the second horn in a fight with a competitor over a mate.
After the last gate opens, you are free again. Free to open the windows of your car, free to drive to the hot springs of Beppu or Yufuin or wherever you like. Free finally to take out that forgotten camera from the trunk.
The exotic animals remain safely locked up in their splendid prison camp.
Access - Getting to African Safari
The African Safari is open throughout the year. Operating hours：9am to 5pm. From November 1st to end of February 10am to 4pm.
African Safari phone: 0978 48 2331
Visit by car: adult 2,300 yen, child 1,300 yen
Visit by park bus: adult 1,000 yen, child 800 yen
Getting there by bus: take the Kamenoi bus lines #41 or #43 from the West Exit of Beppu Station to their final stop at African Safari.
The trip will take close to an hour.
Check for Kamenoi Bus day trip tickets at Beppu Station. A day trip ticket might come cheaper than paying the full price for a return trip to the African Safari.