Just over the Withlacoochee River on 98-301 heading to Dade City on Mickler Road is a ranch that started out with cattle, but now specializes in species a bit more exotic.
On the 46 acre property, giraffe, zebras and ostriches roam freely in an area that mimics their natural habitat. Visitors can choose to view the ranch by Safari Truck, Segway or even by Camel.
Seventeen years ago, Lex Salisbury and his wife Elena Sheppa bought this property to raise cattle. When a friend who managed a Zoo in Gulf Breeze Florida was hit hard by Hurricane Dennis in 2005, he offered Salisbury a few scimitar-horned oryx, which are extinct in the wild in Africa. That's pretty much how the Giraffe Ranch started.
“We have three ecotypes. We have sand hill, live oak hammock and ephemeral wetlands, and we have a diversity of habitat we can have animals in,” Salisbury explained. “We just try to work with animals that do well with this climate and give them as much room as possible.”
The safari truck was filled with a wonderful senior travel group who came across the state from Melbourne to embark on this venture. This was their first visit for some, for others this was their second or third.
Carole Hummel from Melbourne Beach was among the travel group. “Fabulous... This really got up close and feeding the giraffes was fun. I highly recommend it,” Hummel said.
The tour wrapped around the property, stopping at points where Salisbury and his wife Elena Sheppa explained the animals' environment and some interesting facts about them. From zebras and rhinos to feeding the giraffes, the adventure is fun, educational and builds a connection to these beautiful creatures.
“It builds constituency for nature conservation,” Salisbury expressed. He explained that if people aren't involved with wildlife and the environment, "...they are not going to know what they are losing.”
During the safari, you are not only learning about the beauty and natural habitat of these animals, but also about the history of the area.
“This is a really terrific place and I learn more about it all the time…There is so much interesting history,” Salisbury said. “Agritourism people come here from all over to work, and they are really are starved for information about Florida… what Florida has to offer naturally is unsurpassed.”
Elena Sheppa uses her experiences and interaction as a reference for her artwork. Her amazing creative skills in glass art and mixed media can be viewed in the gift shop.
Lex Salisbury has an extensive background working with exotic animals. He has been involved with wildlife sanctuaries and wildlife preserves throughout his life as well as teaching animal behavior at USF.
IF YOU GO:
For tour reservations call (813) 482-3400
38650 Mickler Road Dade City.