One of my favorite North County spots is the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park, formerly known as the Wild Animal Park and still called "WAP" by many locals. For anyone who has not been to the park, it certainly should be on your list of things to do when in San Diego. The Park got its start originally as a breeding facility for the Zoo, with a focus on some of the larger endangered species. It was at the Park that much of the work to save the Przewalski's horse, one of the last truly wild horses, went on. The Park also has been the site of successful breeding of Southern white rhinos and black rhinos, and a host of other creatures large, small and in-between.
One of the more recent additions to the Park is something called Cheetah Run - which is just that. It is a 100-yard long grass track that allows these magnificent cats to run full-out - reaching speeds in excess of 60 mph. The track is located between the Park's balloon ride and Lion Camp, and the best spot for viewing, IMHO, is at the very end of the track. Anywhere else you get to see the cheetah run past in a blur; at the end you get to watch the cat charging down the entire track. I saw the opening run back in the summer, and tried to get photos from the side. Even with the camera set at 1/1600 second shutter speed and continuous firing I only got one shot as the cheetah passed. That is one fast critter.
If you want to go from one extreme of movement to the other, just turn around and head over to Lion Camp (actually, you need to get over there before because they put the lions in before bringing the cheetahs out). Lions are definitely experts on taking things easy, and if you actually see one move (other than to yawn), you should consider yourself lucky. I did hit the jackpot in the picture above, with the big male checking out the area. Okay, he is lying down, but at least he had his head up. Gotta take what you can get.
One other area for movement is what they call Elephant Valley. This was at one time separate African and Asian elephant enclosures, but some years ago they moved the Asian elephants to the Zoo and opened both sides up for their African cousins. The Park brought in a group that was destined to be culled (i.e. killed) and since then there have been a plethora of elephant births. If you get there before 11:00 a.m. you can generally watch the elephants as they are released into the main enclosure where keepers have placed a variety of food items for the animals. It can be very entertaining to watch one of the younger elephants grab a branch of browse and run around waving it in the air. On hot days you may catch the youngsters playing in one of the large ponds.
A special area for me is Condor Ridge, where some of the last remaining California condors are kept. Several decades ago the birds were almost completely extinct. The Zoo, along with other organizations, captured the few that were left and brought them in for protection and to begin a captive breeding program. The program worked, and now there are enough condors that some have been reintroduced into the wild in Southern California and Northern Baja California. The reason these birds are special to me is that my mother was involved in some of the early work. The people working with the condors did not want the birds to imprint on humans, so my mother helped to create a hand puppet that looked like a condor. That way the keepers could feed the chicks without the birds associating food with people. (This picture is actually of the condors at the Zoo.)
I hope you have enjoyed this short tour of the Safari Park. If you have not been there, make plans to head on over. The Park is located east of Escondido - just follow the signs from I-15.