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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Game ranch gets my goat

Growing up in metro-Atlanta, one of the things that every kid could guarantee was a trove of animal sightings. I remember a possum getting trapped in my parents' garbage can; the numerous deer that roamed the woods adjacent to our neighborhood; my father and the next-door neighbor killing a water moccasin with a garden ho on the neighbor's back patio; crawfish in the stream near the swimming lake through the woods; fishing in the neighborhood pond; the occasional raccoon sighting that always prompted rabies warnings; tossing rolled-up socks into the air to attract bats on the hunt; and rumors of bear sightings that never materialized. Emmie's only really ever gotten up close and personal with cats, dogs and chickens. So on a recent visit to Atlanta, I took Emerson to explore The Yellow River Game Ranch.

This 24-acre property takes in injured animals - deer, bears, cougars, coyotes, possums, donkeys, sheep, turkeys, chickens, goats, rabbits, whatever it can - and gives them a place to live and medical care, all financed by admission from visitors who come to get up close and personal with them.

We were greeted in the parking lot by roosters crowing in the trees. My $18 at the door got us two tickets, a bag of carrots and a bag of peanuts. Upon entrance a deer immediately walked up to us. And another. And another. We fed them carrots and loved on them. They were so tame and so soft. And then one turned its head to look for another snack and almost knocked me into the bushes with its antlers. It reminded me that these were once wild animals, and we were lucky to encounter them so closely. It also reminded me to watch their freaking antlers.

Um, I was told there would be snacks.
Right after this photo, his antlers sent me flying across the path
and into a fence post. If only there was video...
This cutie's tongue hung out like that all the time.

We played with peacocks, a mama peahen and her babies, squirrels, chipmunks, chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, rabbits and ducks.

I feel pretty!
Donkey was a boss. If you weren't feeding him,
he kicked the fence repeatedly to get your attention.
I love sheep. But they sure do stink.
Despite the sign behind her, Emmie teased the mountain lion.
Yes, I let her climb up there to ring the bell. Commence judgment.
Bunnies always look surprised -
like, "Carrots?! WTF, man?! Warn a bunny!"
That is a giant wild cat just above his head.
And the dark spots on the path are giant wild cat pee.
Anyone else wish he would move a little to the left?
Buffalo smell worse than sheep. And they don't DO anything.
Also, I can't think of buffalo without hearing Graham Greene
say: "Tatonka." Y'all know what I'm saying.
One of four fawns we saw tucked into the brush.
Baby animals r cyoot!

We also saw the permanent home of Gen. Beauregard Lee, Georgia's resident weather prognosticator on Groundhog Day. We did not see the groundhog, himself. Likely because he was in the ground, which is kind of what groundhogs do: hang out in the dirt and eat.

I always hope he'll see his shadow. I like winter.
After about two hours of feeding and petting animals, it was time to go. We had run out of snacks, and Emmie had been scratched by a bunny, which prompted some dramatics from her. Faint bunny scratch equals this for her.

Is the Yellow River Game Ranch a fancy, high-tech facility with cutting-edge medicine with exotic animals and such? Nope. Frankly, while I know it passes state codes, the manner in which the animals are enclosed does not make me 100 percent comfortable. The bears are in a concrete pit. Many animals are in wire enclosures. But it's better than them being euthanized, I guess.

And many of the animals are thriving. The deer had given birth, as had bunnies and peahens, goats and sheep.  They were safe and well-fed, and seemed to enjoy the human interaction.

I know I enjoyed it. One of the baby goats laid its head on my shoulder and nuzzled my neck, then looked up at me as though asking for a present. I gave him the last of my carrots and snuggled him. He chewed my hair for a moment before trotting off to butt things with his head.

It was time to go. But as we were walking away, I heard a "BEH-EH-EH-EH-EH-EH!" from behind me. It was the goat at the fence, lamenting our departure. I ambled back and leaned down to snuggle it. After a moment, it backed away, and I sighed.  Even animals, I thought, can be so loving. Life is good.

Then it head-butted me.

What a wonderful world.

Laugh it up, goatboy.

Details: Open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Get there as early as you can so that the animals are hungry and energetic. Those 12 years and up are $8; ages 2 to 11 are $7; and children under the age of 2 are free. Visit


  1. I agree it's not pretty, but it's over 20 years old, and most of the animals seem to be pretty happy there. I'm shocked they haven't had any fatalities or major escapes in 20 years, to tell you the truth - especially the wild cats and bears! And those rabbits are indeed ferocious... ;)

  2. I was thinking that, too. If I remember correctly, they were thinking of adding kangaroos (or they did have kangaroos?), but I can't remember. I was trying to check that through Google, and I came across this: Definitely on my list. But not if there's boxing involved.