When my daughter the animal lover told me that she wanted me to join her and a few friends on her birthday trip to Yellow River Game Ranch, I was less than excited. I anticipated spending a hot late spring day in the company of smelly animals. We jokingly referred to the upcoming outing as “the goat party.”
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the day. The walking paths at Yellow River Game Ranch—on Highway 78 East just on the Gwinnett side of the DeKalb/Gwinnett county line—are mostly shaded by a canopy of trees, making a stroll through the animal preserve pleasant even on a warm day. In addition to walking along the dirt paths, visitors can climb into viewing stands and cross catwalks to see animals from a number of interesting angles.
I wasn’t much bothered by animal smells either. I don’t recommend standing downwind of the bison, the largest herd east of the Mississippi, or getting too close to the mules, but the smaller animals—even the goats—aren’t really unpleasant to be around. In fact, the kids—the baby goats—were playful and fun. I have a new understanding of why children are sometimes called kids.
As visitors pay for tickets, they have the opportunity to purchase food for the animals. There also are little gumball-machine-type containers at some of the enclosures with food for the animals. Others have signs indicating which foods an animal likes and in some cases that an animal has a special diet and shouldn’t be fed by visitors. We bought saltines, graham crackers, carrots and dried corn that can be cut from the cob using a neat little gadget at the entrance to the animal area.
There are animals roaming the property freely and others that are enclosed for their safety and the safety of humans and other animals. It’s possible to interact with, and in some cases even feed, animals inside and outside enclosures. The entire experience is a much more intimate animal encounter than one finds at most zoos. Where visitors can’t come to the fence and offer food, there are tubes through which the food can be dropped.
Many of the animals such as the peafowl—especially the males, the peacocks—are fun to look at. Most are comfortable with the steady stream of human visitors and interact playfully with them, even eating out of human hands. Those who treat the animals with kindness and respect will find them gentle and harmless.
The game ranch’s website notes that the bunny area is one of its most popular spots. It’s OK to come inside the fence and get a close look at the furry little critters, but signs warn that those who chase the rabbits or try to pick them up will be asked to leave.
We encountered a hog with a fondness for graham crackers that had learned how to let folks know this is his favorite food. We dropped other edibles through his tube without getting him excited, but when we dropped graham crackers he ate them then used his snout to bang his feeding tube loudly against the fence, calling out for more.
The 24-acre site has more than 600 types of animals—from white-tailed deer to ducks to black bears—all indigenous to Georgia. Signs around the property explain that the creatures at the ranch are rescue animals and that although some may have scars and other indications of earlier injuries, all are healthy. It’s my guess that such signs are a response to some bloggers saying they feel sorry for the animals or that some animals appeared to be sick.
Yellow River Game Ranch’s most famous resident is V.I.G. (Very Important Groundhog) Gen. Beauregard Lee. While every Feb. 2 Punxsutawney Phil, a Pennsylvania resident, predicts how early spring will come in the North, Beau, as he’s known to his friends, makes the official call for the South. The Groundhog Day event usually draws large crowds with many waving “Go, Beau!” signs.
Yellow River Game Ranch is open seven days a week except on Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Summer hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day) are 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and the rest of the year hours are 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $8 for those 12 and older, $7 for children 2 through 11, and there’s no charge for children younger than 2. Ticket sales end an hour before closing.
For more information, visit www.yellowrivergameranch.com.