MYRTLE BEACH – If you are an animal lover like me, then any future trip to Myrtle Beach (www.visitMyrtleBeach.com) will definitely include an opportunity to hold and play with baby tigers, wolves, chimpanzees and other endangered species.

This is all part of the Myrtle Beach Safari, presented by an organization called T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species). The man behind this operation is Doctor Bhagavan Antl, who started out training animals for movies and TV and they wanted a place where many went to essentially retire. They offer a guided safari like experience through a 50 acre preserve where many of the animals crawl right on top of your lap. A percentage of the revenue from the T.I.G.E.R.S. experience goes to the Rare Species Fund, which provides funding for on the ground international conservation programs.

Where this is specifically located? I cannot put that information in print. Those who sign up are given a rendezvous point of where to show up. You will have to experience it to learn more about this part of the journey. In order to maximize the peace for the animals and the privacy for guests, this preserve cannot be found on Google or MapQuest. Any address that you may find for this company is the one to Preservation Station in Barefoot Landing – 15 miles south of the actual location.

No personal cameras, video cameras, or cell phones are allowed on the tour. Professional photographers shoot studio quality photographs and video. This gives you the opportunity to take home a set of portraits and phenomenal videos that are incomparable to any other photo opportunity. The $200 fee is well worth it. Tours run three to five days a week, from mid-March to early October, and cost about $300 per person.

Tours operate rain or shine. A large majority of the tour is covered and they have the capacity to move portions of it inside if needed. They do have complimentary umbrellas available, but recommend that if it is raining that you bring your own rain jacket/poncho and wear clothing you do not mind getting a little damp in.

Myrtle Beach Safari

Mike makes new friends with a monkey and a tiger cub at the Myrtle Beach Safari.

This is a fully interactive activity. You will get to meet, pet, and hold a large variety of the animals. After filling out the necessary forms and getting a pep talk from long-time animal ambassador Rob Johnson, our group was introduced to a liger- a 900 pound hybrid between a male lion and a female tiger. We first watched it march around through a glass window and then got to look at in the flesh from about 12 feet away before they snapped our photo with the big cat in the background. Our group was then told to sit as tightly as possible on a horseshoe configuration of benches and then put our hands out. Soon after a binturon walked across our laps, allowing everyone to pet her. A binto what, you ask? This is a medium sized carnivore, also known as the Asian bearcat. Their fur is thick, coarse and black in colour and they have a long, bushy tail.

The animals on each tour vary depending upon the day and the time of year, but you will always get to spend time with the tiger babies, hang out with the monkeys or apes and meet exotic animals you’ve probably never even heard of before.

The tour itself lasted about three hours. Early on we sat in a covered enclosure and they brought us baby tigers, lions, lynx and wolves to touch and hold. They were all so gentle. During a refreshment break in a tree top location we observed some members of the cat family let loose and running upwards of 45 miles per hour to try and catch a snack on a rope. Rob Johnson introduced us to a very intelligent eagle, which followed all of his commands.

During these one of a kind shows, you see the animals interacting with their handlers who have developed a very special rapport with them. You will not see our animals sleeping or pacing in cages, as you may find in “traditional” zoos. Instead you will have a look at some of the most magnificent creatures on earth up close and uncaged doing all of the natural activities they would normally do in the wild. Why go to such great lengths? Because the team at T.I.G.E.R.S. feel that if people can get an up-close and educational view of these glorious beasts, they will be eager to learn of the plight of endangered species

During the Myrtle Beach Safari tour guests will have the opportunity to watch the trainers swim with the tigers. This is not something that they can allow the public to do so bathing suits are not required on the tour.

There are some incredible personal/private encounters. A long standing favorite is to swim with Bubbles the elephant in the intra-coastal waterway on the edge of the preserve. You may want to spend more one on one time with the cubs, have an adventure through the forest or paint with the great apes. These encounters start at $5,000. Email tigersmbsafari@yahoo.com for more information on that. We all got to meet, pet and feed the gigantic and gentle Bubbles.

For more information, log on to: www.myrtlebeachsafari.com and www.tigerfriends.com/RSF.html.

Mike Cohen’s email address is info@mikecohen.ca. Follow his travels at www.sandboxworld.com/travel and on Twitter and Instagram @mikecohencsl.