SALLEY — Like the owners of many businesses, Mark Nisbet was forced to adapt quickly to the formidable challenge posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
His response was to open a drive-thru wildlife safari park at his Eudora Farms a year earlier than originally planned.
Nisbet launched the new venture at 219 Salem Lane on May 8, and since then hundreds of vehicles carrying people eager to see camels, zebras, emus, Watusi cattle and other exotic animals have traveled through the attraction.
The camels, especially, have generated a lot of excitement.
Visitors can purchase small buckets of feed, and the camels like to stick their heads in cars, grab the containers with their mouths and gulp down the contents.
Some children “get a little scared at first, but then they think it’s funny because their parents start freaking out,” said Nisbet’s 20-year-old daughter, Shelby.
She and her father work with the animals to make sure they’re not too aggressive.
“If we have something that needs more training, I normally handle that,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic, Eudora Farms was involved primarily in providing interactive educational exhibits at fairs in the South and the Northeast.
Eudora’s creatures also appeared in living nativity scenes, and there were field trips for schoolchildren at the farm.
But because of COVID-19, all of Eudora’s contracts with fairs were canceled through August.
As the end of April neared, “we were getting close to depleting all our savings,” Nisbet said. “My goal was to open a drive-thru next year, so I decided to go ahead to get some income coming in.”
Nisbet posted announcements on social media, promoting the wildlife safari park’s drive-thru format as a way “to get out of the house and still maintain social distancing.”
In addition he set an admission price of $20 per vehicle, which he described as "a very affordable amount for the experience."
On May 8, which was a Friday, "there were probably about 200 cars,” Nisbet said. “Then, on Saturday, we had about 700 to 800 cars, and there were periods when they were lined up all the way up to Hollow Creek Road, which is a little over a mile away. On Mother’s Day, we probably had 600 or more cars.”
Nisbet also made private tours available, but they are sold out until early July.
“At those darkest points, when things aren’t going so well, if you can stay with it and push on, sometimes there will be a breakthrough,” he said. “And we just kept pushing on.”
Visitors worried about exposure to COVID-19 don’t have to get out of their vehicles and can leave immediately traveling through Eudora Farms’ large pastures.
But for those who want to linger, there are hand-sanitizing stations and a picnic area where the tables are spaced wide apart.
Nearby are the enclosure where Elliot the giraffe lives, an aviary with more than 170 parakeets and a small petting zoo where the animals include a friendly baby camel named Wuhan.
The wildlife safari park is still very much a work in progress, Nisbet said. He pointed out a spot where six enclosures are being built along a trail as homes for such creatures as binturongs and red kangaroos.
The ring-tailed lemur enclosure is finished, and a mother that has two babies clinging to her fur is among the residents.
Nisbet also has plans for a new entrance and a gift shop, which will have a covered porch where educational shows can be held.
While conducting a private tour Thursday, Shelby talked to the participants about the camels they were seeing.
“Camels have two rows of eyelashes that help the keep the sand out of their eyes when there is a sandstorm,” she said. “They also can close their nostrils to keep sand from going up their nose.”
Rebecca Jones of Barnwell went on the private tour with her 13-year-old son, Nicholas.
“We enjoyed it,” she said. “The zebras were really cool. When they were kind of running after each other, it was pretty awesome.”
Eudora Farms is offering drive-thru opportunities without a guide at the wildlife safari park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
For more information, call 803-606-6325 or visit the Eudora Farms page on Facebook or eudorafarms.net.