Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pumpkin Safari at Safari Wilderness Ranch

Safari Wilderness Ranch entrance

On Sunday, Ron and I spent the afternoon at Safari Wilderness, a 260-acre ranch located in Florida’s Green Swamp near Lakeland. The ranch is home to over 50 species of exotic animals from Africa and Asia, including antelope, deer, water buffalo, Watusi cattle, zebras, llamas, and even a wart hog. In 2012, the ranch opened to the public for tours, but it is not a zoo or a theme park. The animals roam and graze freely around the natural Florida landscape.

Most people visiting the ranch take the Vehicle Safari tour, which is offered twice daily for $75 a person and lasts about two hours. But this month the ranch is celebrating its annual Pumpkin Safari with shorter tours leaving every hour from 1 PM to 6 PM on Saturdays and Sundays for $39. The Pumpkin Safari also includes a free pumpkin to carve or give to the animals for enrichment.

We got to the ranch a little after 1, so we just missed the 1 o’clock tour. But that gave us time to sign up for one of the optional experiences, the lemur feeding. Our guide, Emily, gave us each a handful of grapes and suggested that we cut each grape in half to make the feeding last longer. Apparently, once the grapes are gone, the lemurs lose interest pretty quickly. :-)  As soon as we entered the lemur enclosure, five ring-tailed lemurs hopped up on the feeding post, ready for their grapes. The lemurs were very gentle and would take the grapes right out of our hands with their soft little paws. The youngest ones were still learning manners and occasionally leapfrogged over each other to get to the food. Mama Lemur gave them stern looks to get them back in line. Since ring-tailed lemur troops are matriarchal, what Mama says goes!

ring-tailed lemurs

feeding the lemurs

ring-tailed lemurs

ring-tailed lemur

ring-tailed lemurs

Once the grapes were gone, we had just enough time to wash the grape juice off our hands before boarding the truck for our safari. The truck was a converted bus with a canvas top for shade and stadium seating for up to 20 people. Our driver and tour guide, Art, first stopped at the entrance to the ranch to introduce us to a camel and a….what was that thing? It looked like a cross between a donkey and a zebra. Turns out, that’s exactly what it was. Zedonks don’t like intruders so they are great for patrolling the perimeter and keeping predators like coyotes off the property. Art told us that the ranch had two kinds of camels, Bactrian and Dromedary. He said you could remember which were which because if you turn a B on its side it looks like two humps while a D looks like one hump. What a great tip.

dromedary camel
One hump = Dromedary


Next we stopped by a herd of grazing zebras, which included a couple of babies born at the ranch this year. I love zebras but, like horses, they are really hard to photograph because they always seem to be eating. :-)  Across the field there was a group of Watusi cattle with their gigantic horns, resting in the shade of a tree. It could have been a scene right out of Africa.


zebra parade


zebra grazing

zebra love

baby zebra

two deer
Two heads are better than one

In the Asian section of the ranch, we got a chance to feed the water buffalo. Art handed out protein sticks and the buffalo came right up to the truck and stuck out their long purple tongues for their treats. They were huge but so gentle and sweet. While we fed the buffalo, several antelope and llamas hung around looking hopeful. Llamas are known for spitting but Art said not to worry since most llamas rarely spit unless they are fighting with each other over food. No sooner had he said that, one of the llamas let out a sneezing sound and sprayed us with llama spit. Agh!! Well, you can’t get much more “up close and personal” than being sneezed on by a llama. :-)  If you want a unique and natural wildlife experience, Safari Wilderness is the place to go!

water buffalo

water buffalo

feeding the water buffalo



Travel Tips: In addition to the Vehicle Safari tours, visitors can also experience the ranch on horseback, camelback or kayak. For details and prices visit the Safari Wilderness website, Groupon sometimes offers discounted tickets.

1 comment:

  1. What a fun day you had. I never thought Lemurs would be capable of manners but I'm glad to know they are and it's their mothers that teach them.