Myrtle Beach Safari: TIGERS Wild Encounters Tour Experience
March 10, 2020
Did you know the world’s largest big cat resides in Myrtle Beach? I’ve always assumed Myrtle Beach was just a beach vacation destination, but within the city borders are actually 50 acres of tropical wildlife preserve, better known as Myrtle Beach Safari. Myrtle Beach Safari is the brainchild of Doc Antle, the founder and director of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS), who advocates for the transformative capability of understanding and interacting animals to drive conservation efforts. Proceeds from the Myrtle Beach Safari go to the Rare Species Fund, which Doc Antle founded at the same time as the safari and which contributes to domestic and international conservation efforts.
The TIGERS Wild Encounters Tour at the Myrtle Beach Safari is a 3-hour tour through the preserve that gives you the chance to learn about and interact with many of the animals that call the preserve home, including Bubbles the elephant, baby tigers, and chimpanzees.
When we took a family weekend trip to Myrtle Beach, this was on the top of my list for activities. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I learned so much about different conservation efforts across the globe. The prices are a bit steep – $339 per person for the tour without the photo package, $489 with the photo package – but it’s an investment worth saving up for. The proceeds go towards the steep overhead for the upkeep of over 200 animals as well as a portion is donated to the Rare Species Fund, which Doc Antle founded at the same time as the safari and which contributes to domestic and international conservation efforts.
There’s a lot of information about the tour online, but here’s our first-hand account of what to expect from the Wild Encounters Tour if you choose to visit the safari yourself!
TIGERS Wild Encounters Tour at Myrtle Beach Safari
Before You Visit
- Don’t be late!
- When you get to the location, which is only given to you once the tour is confirmed for the safety of the animals, back your car into a spot and wait until the safari begins signing people in.
- You’ll sign a waiver: “Yes, I understand animals are wild and I won’t sue you if I get eaten,” that kind of thing.
- After you park inside the gate of the preserve, you’re led to a lodge where you have the opportunity to use the bathroom. You won’t get another chance during the tour, so definitely take the opportunity!
- Don’t wear backpacks, purses, or any dangling clothing that could catch a stray paw, and don’t bring any food or candy inside with you, because the monkeys will find it! I had some Hi-Chews in my pocket I had to eat up real quick.
- If you’ve purchased a photo package, you’ll get a family photo taken, and then on to the tour!
A liger is the offspring of a female tiger and a male lion, and Myrtle Beach Safari is home to several of these impressive creatures. They are only bred in captivity and can grow to be some of the largest big cats. Hercules, the liger we met on the tour, was declared the world’s largest big cat at over 900 pounds and standing 11 feet tall on his hind legs!
Getting a look at Hercules the Liger was the first thing we did on the tour. He was absolutely massive, but it was obvious he had built a trusting relationship with his handler, who told us all about him and the species. There’s no interaction with the adult cats, so we had our photo taken in front of him, and then moved on to the next part of the tour.
Next up we had a close encounter with a cheetah. We felt completely safe the whole time, and it was evident that the staff takes both visitor and animal safety very seriously. While the handlers walked the beautiful cheetah by us, we had to stay seated and the kids had to sit in the last row so we didn’t spook the cheetah. It was gorgeous and very well behaved!
The Tiger Experience
During this part of the tour, the Myrtle Beach Safari handlers let several tiger cubs out into the room where all the tour group members were sitting on the floor. The cubs played around, running and crawling on your laps all while professional photographers are standing by to snap some candid shots.
It was incredible to see how the personalities of all the cubs come out. Some were totally wild and playful, while others were more chill and were content to cuddle in laps. They were also so soft, and one of the tigers had the most beautiful blue eyes. Also while we were in this space, the handlers brought some other animals out for us to see, including a wolf and a lynx.
From the tiger cub room, you’re led to the upstairs of what is basically an expansive treehouse for some yummy snacks and refreshments. They served us hummus, chips, muffins, and rooibos tea, which we all loved. All of the food the tour serves is vegetarian, as the handlers and employees are all vegetarian, but don’t worry about the animals, Myrtle Beach Safari actually purchases more chicken in a day than the local KFC!
While you’re in the upstairs part of the building, you’ll step out onto a balcony while handlers in the grass below put on a demonstration of the tigers’ running capabilities. You’ll get to see tigers run at full speed directly below you, chasing after a lure. It’s truly an incredible moment to see an apex predator display their skills in real life.
In addition to all the big cats we got to see, our tour also included a demonstration with resident falconer Robert Johnson. He told us all about Ahren, an African fish eagle that was rescued from Tanzania. Ahren was very responsive to Robert’s calls and even jumped up to his hat to get a treat. I also found it pretty funny that this majestic eagle walked sort of like a chicken!
Bubbles the Elephant
From the balcony, you’ll witness Doc Antle himself ride in on Bubbles the African elephant, who Doc Antle rescued when she was orphaned in the early 1980s. Doc tells us all about Bubbles, and it’s obvious they have a close relationship. Bubbles is essentially one of Doc’s children, and she’s very affectionate with him. You’ll watch Bubbles do everything from play a harmonica to drink fruit punch, which Doc tells us is her favorite drink, before getting to interact with her yourself.
Every group on the tour got to feed her a carrot and take photos. Harper was apprehensive at first, and who wouldn’t with an animal that big, but he warmed up and absolutely loved it! The smile on his face says everything.
The Monkey Experience
As I mentioned in my Myrtle Beach travel guide, I’ve always loved monkeys, so this part of the tour was particularly exciting for me. The tour handlers bring out several different species of baby monkeys, including gibbons and chimpanzees. They had similar free rein of the space like the tiger cubs, and some would sit on your shoulder while a few were actually swinging from the rafters of the building. They were so adorable, even more so perhaps because they were wearing cloth diapers while we held them.
The baby chimpanzee we held as a family was definitely a class clown, and it was mind-blowing to understand just how similar they are to us as humans. The chimp saw the badge I was wearing and studied it, then showed it to me, then chewed on it a bit before repeating the same process to Harper. We were in tears laughing at the interaction!
We took a break from the monkeys for lunch, where the safari employees had set up a great assortment of vegetarian pizza options, potato chips, sodas, Gatorade, and cinnamon rolls. Everything was so delicious!
After lunch, we got to play catch with some of the chimpanzees and beach balls. Cue the laughter tears now! The chimps were SO good at the game, and you could tell the strategy they were using as they bounced and aimed the balls. Some of the chimps then painted on a few t-shirts, and my ticket was chosen in the raffle to win one of the shirts!
As the finale to the tour, we again got to witness the amazing tigers as they swam with Doc Antle’s son, Kody. Kody was raised alongside Bubbles and the other animals that Doc had in his refuge, and there’s an incredible bond there. It was so fun to watch them play!
The TIGERS Wild Encounters Tour is, as I’ve said, such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But more than just interacting with adorable animals, we all learned so much while we were on the tour. Everyone who works at the Myrtle Beach Safari is so dedicated to the care and conservation of the animals they work with, and they’re so knowledgable about them. Throughout the tour, we learned about global conservation efforts the Rare Species Fund (the charity to which proceeds of the tour ticket goes to) is currently working on, including supplying solar-powered lanterns to reduce dependence on wooded tiger habitats for heat and light sources in central India and providing anti-poaching technology like tracking systems and drones.