Thursday, November 9, 2017

Giraffes and More at Giraffe Ranch

Giraffe Ranch in Dade City

I thought giraffes were fascinating long before I spent two months waiting for April the giraffe to give birth. :-)  When I found out last year that Safari Wilderness had a sister property in Dade City that offered giraffe feedings, I knew we’d have to pay a visit. With the weather finally turning cooler, it seemed like the perfect time to go.

Giraffe Ranch is a family-owned exotic game farm that runs guided tours twice a day. We had signed up for the 11 o’clock Safari Vehicle Tour and were lucky enough to have both owners, Lex and his wife Elena, for our guides. Elena started off the tour with a 10-minute educational talk about the giraffes and other animals at the ranch. Did you know that a giraffe’s neck has seven vertebrae, the same number as a human? It’s just that each vertebra is much longer! Also, animals whose hooves are split into an even number of toes have no top front teeth while animals with an odd number, like zebras and horses, do. That was why we’d be feeding the giraffes but not the zebras. We were much less likely to lose a finger. :-)

After the talk was over, Lex led our group on a short walk where we met Katelyn, the resident Galapagos tortoise. Katelyn loved to have her neck scratched so she stood perfectly still with her head raised while each of us took a turn giving her a neck rub. Lex pointed out the rotational grazing pens used for the chickens. Lex explained that moving the pens from place to place not only fertilizes the ground naturally but also prevents parasites by interrupting their life cycle.

Finally, we climbed into a customized safari truck for a drive around the property. Lex and Elena’s three dogs – Bug, Doug and Grub – joined us for the ride. We had to keep an eye on Doug, who kept trying to eat the cabbage that was supposed to be for the giraffes. :-)  We stopped periodically for Lex or Elena to point out different animals and their behaviors. We saw antelope, scimitar-horned oryx, llamas, zebras and a mother tapir with her new baby. A herd of Dexter cattle rested under the branches of the massive oak trees. A few ostriches curiously checked out our truck. Elena showed us a couple of abandoned ostrich eggs and even stood on one to demonstrate how strong the shell was.

giraffe vertebra
a giraffe vertebra

Lex and Katelyn
Lex and Katelyn

Galapogos tortoise

Susan and Katelyn

Dexter cattle

ostrich eggs

Elena standing on an ostrich egg
Elena standing on an abandoned ostrich egg


mama and baby tapir
Mama tapir and her baby




zebras feeding

The highlight of the tour, of course, was feeding the giraffes. Elena maneuvered the truck next to the giraffes' enclosure and then she and Lex handed out cabbage and branches of oak leaves. Giraffes are prey animals so they can be skittish. We pretended we were trees and held the branches up quietly until a few of the giraffes shyly approached. Soon they were eating chunks of cabbage out of our hands. Very cool!


Susan and giraffe

Ron and giraffe

feeding the giraffes


Compared to our tour at Safari Wilderness last year, Giraffe Ranch was a very different experience. It was a much smaller property so it had fewer and smaller animals. But with only 11 people in our tour group, the Giraffe Ranch tour was also more personal and intimate. Lex and Elena obviously love what they do and shared a wealth of information about animals, agriculture and even some Florida history. If you love interacting with animals and seeing them in a natural environment, Giraffe Ranch is a great place to spend a few hours. You’ll probably learn a lot too.

Giraffe Ranch sign

Travel Tips: Tours are held daily at 11 AM and 2 PM, by reservation only.  See their website for details: There is a charge if paying by credit card, so be sure to bring cash or a check.

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