I rubbed the nose of a camel, felt the tongue of a giraffe, and fed grapes to ring-tailed lemurs last weekend and it was a totally amazing experience. Best of all, I didn’t need a passport. These and other animals live a seemingly happy life at Giraffe Ranch, a 47-acre private property just a 45 minute drive north of Tampa in Dade City, Fla.
If Dr. Dolittle was a real person, then Giraffe Ranch is how I imagine his ranch. Exotic and domestic animals from Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas roam the ranch while their caregivers openly show their fondness with care and affection. Giraffe Ranch isn’t a zoo and it’s not an amusement park but a working game farm and wildlife preserve owned and operated by former Lowry Park Zoo director Lex Salisbury and his wife Elena Sheppa. Although they’ve owned the property since 2001, it’s been open to the public since early 2010 with two tours by buggy a day with a limited number of people for each tour (20 per buggy).
How Long is a Giraffe’s Tongue?
Salisbury is passionate about the ranch and its residents which made me feel as though I was visiting a friend’s home and meeting his extended family. Before hopping on a buggy for a ranch tour, the co-owner gave a fascinating orientation about giraffes and camels. Did you know a giraffe’s tongue is about 18 to 20 inches long? Did you know a camel’s hump is full of fat and not water? Any Jeopardy! hopeful will easily eat up all the facts spouted out about the animals and ranch during their visit.
Agritourism on the Ranch
After the orientation, Salisbury led a walking tour of the property where we saw examples of rotational grazing with chickens. This is when the chickens graze in a specific, penned in area then are rotated to another area after a couple of days. In the center of the portable pen is a portable hen house where the chickens lay their eggs. Eggs were picked from the house so we could feel a warm, chicken-fresh egg. My souvenir from the day was a $4 carton of a dozen eggs with rich, orange yolks and I’m told lower in cholesterol.
Giraffe Ranch also raises fainting goats – ya know, they run, then stop dead in their tracks then faint and get up – along with Dexter cattle. The goats must’ve been feeling pretty good because they didn’t faint. The Dexter cattle are grass-fed and is recognized as some of the best eating beef. The ranch sells it either as a half-cow or whole. Half a cow is the equivalent of a quarter of a standard cow.
Awwww! Feeding Ring-Tailed Lemurs
Afterward, it was off to feeding grapes to adorable ring-tailed lemurs ($20 in addition to admission). Six people at a time were allowed in the pen. Prior to the feeding we were each given a handful of grapes with instructions to keep them hidden in one hand behind our backs and feed one grape at a time to a ring-tailed lemur. The little guys reached out with their gentle paws and grabbed my fingers with hopes of being fed. (See the video below.)
Two buggies loaded up and went in different directions while a family of four mounted camels for a unique tour experience. We stopped now and then to see and learn about ostriches, emus, zebras, zedunks, pigmy hippos, warthogs, rhinoceroses and camels. Of course, the highlight was feeding the giraffes oak and cabbage leaves. They lower their heads to human level, bat their long eyelashes then stick out their tongue and grab the vegetation.
Feeding adorable giraffes is the reason people visit the ranch but it offers so much more. I made the trip because I purchased a Grouponand wanted to experience something different.
I have fed giraffes before, at Lowry Park Zoo and at Busch Gardens, but the Giraffe Ranch experience seemed extra special. Honestly, I was just expecting to hop on a buggy, feed some giraffes then head home. Instead, in less than 2 hours I connected with the ranch’s animals through learning about them and interacting with some. This is a place to avoid the crowds to relax and learn. Definitely not an ordinary Florida vacation activity but one that will be cherished always.
Plan a Visit to Giraffe Ranch
38650 Mickler Road
Dade City Fla. 33523
Safari Tours are $59.99 per adult, $49.99 per child (2 – 11) and seniors 65 and older are $54.99. Additional experiences on top of the safari tour are available including camel expeditions, budgie feeding, ring-tailed lemur feeding and a behind-the-scenes tour. Tours are by advance reservations only and tours are led daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Safari Wilderness in Lakeland (10850 Moore Rd., Tel: 813-382-2120a0 is Giraffe Ranch’s sister property and I can’t wait to check it out!
If the video above does not play, view it here.
Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link to support my traveling habit.