Surrounded by predators: Taking a van tour through the Zoo Safaripark

The safari park includes an amusement park, a zoo and an outdoor enclosure.

Looking for a safari without the long journey? Visitors can experience wild animals up close at the Zoo Safaripark through the windows of a Mercedes-Benz van.

Predators up close

A gentle wind blows across the sweeping steppe as Karl-Heinz Lesker navigates his Mercedes-Benz Viano CDI over the rough, sandy terrain. It is 24° C today. Unusual temperatures for the steppe. But not unusual for the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia. The large steppe area which the head zookeeper is crossing is located in the Teutoburger Wald on the edge of the Senne nature preserve. It is only one of the many expansive outdoor enclosures in Stukenbrock. Antelopes, elephants, giraffes and many other animals have found a home here along with the rare white lion and tigers. Karl-Heinz Lesker or “Kalle”, as his friends call him, is a fan of these animals and spent 20 years travelling with a circus before he joined the Zoo Safaripark in 2005. Today he knows every one of the animals by name and knows everything about all of the animals in his care. That makes him the perfect man for a guided tour through the park.

The park's own Viano CDI has space for up to 6 safari guests.

Off-road to the animals

Up to six people can enjoy the VIP safari tour – these “very important persons” range from families to company trips. In the safari park’s own two Mercedes-Benz Viano, they have the opportunity to leave the otherwise mandatory roads with Karl-Heinz Lesker and travel off-road directly to the animals. Lesker is also the reason why the animals do not flee the moment the van approaches. “In the beginning, I had to gradually teach the animals that the van and I belong together”, explains the animal inspector as he drives past a group of grazing zebras that only look up briefly when they see him with his guests. “At first time, I drove up to them slowly and all alone. The lions were very nervous and surrounded the vehicle. Then I spoke to each of them individually and said: “Hey, it’s me, Kalle!” After that they calmed down. Since then, they associate me and my voice with the van and are happy when I arrive.”

The Mercedes-Benz Viano is allowed to leave the roads and drive off-road to the animals.

A race with the spitting llama

The first encounter with the tigers was a lot less peaceful. “One of them sneaked up behind me”, explains Lesker and the group in the van’s passenger compartment listens excitedly. “Suddenly there was a huge crash and its teeth were embedded in the bumper. If I had driven off, he would have torn off the bumper completely. So I coaxed him up to my window and calmed him down.” While Lesker is telling the story, another animal approaches the van. “Spucki!” he calls out happily. The llama runs along beside the van and then suddenly leaps in front of the vehicle. The automatic distance-keeping system sounds the alarm but Lesker only smiles: “This is just a game that we play. He knows that he can stop me by doing that and will get something to eat.” As always, Spucki’s plan is a success. And the guests in the van give a sigh of relief and laugh: their concerns that the llama might spit into the open window were unfounded. Everyone worries about that, says Lesker with a laugh afterwards. But it has never happened.

The Mercedes-Benz Viano CDI is a familiar sight for the animals at the Zoo Safaripark.
Profile Mercedes-Benz Viano CDI
Modell Viano CDI, automatic, 2.2 liters
Seats 6 seats in the rear
Black Viano model year 2011, registered on 06.03.2012
Colourful Viano model year 2005, registered on 04.05.2006

Zoo Safaripark Stukenbrock
Stukenbrock | Germany

Photos: Zoo Safaripark