In the eight years that I have lived in Florida, one of my top places to visit in the state has been the Dade City Giraffe Ranch.
So far I have been there three times, and each time I visit I have seen or experienced something new.
I discovered the existence of the Giraffe Ranch in 2011 via a Groupon deal. It sounded interesting, and my sister was due to be visiting me with her baby daughter in the next couple of months, so I decided to purchase two tickets and give it a shot.
I am so glad I did it! My sister loved the experience, and it was memorable enough for me that I made plans to take a second sister and her infant son when they came to visit in 2013. My family doesn’t have the chance to visit me in Florida very often, so when they do I try to make it an unforgettable trip so they can’t wait to come back!
This year I wanted to experience the ranch without children, so I decided to take my boyfriend, who, despite having lived in this area of Florida for most of his life, had never even heard of the Giraffe Ranch. I was excited to share it with someone new, and was looking forward to seeing what might have changed in the four years since I had been there. (Note – I have a video version of my most recent trip at the bottom of this post, so if you don’t feel like reading right now, feel free to scroll to the end and watch.)
I noticed a few changes right away when I booked the tour – they added a some new ways to experience the ranch. You could opt to do the original tour in the safari vehicle, OR for an extra charge you could choose to do it 1) by Segway, or 2) walking with a llama companion. I was soooo tempted to spring for the llama companion, but decided to pass on it this time. Now I have an excuse to visit again soon!
Another new optional experience that had been added was something called the “rhino encounter” – they allow you to feed, bathe, and pet a full-grown rhinoceros. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but when would I ever have another chance to touch a rhino? I had to do it!
There were also the familiar add-on options of feeding the lemurs and feeding the otters. I passed on the otters, but the lemur feeding was something I had done on both of my other trips, and opted for it again on this one. I love the feeling of their little paws as they take grapes from your hand – it’s like when a baby grasps your finger – albeit with with smaller and furrier hands.
On the day of our tour, we signed in and sat down for a brief introduction and history of the ranch from the husband and wife team who run it. They talked about how the ranch started, what we could expect, and they gave us some insight into the animals we’d be seeing. They were incredibly friendly and made sure that they had answered any questions we had before we got started.
On to the tour! The lemur feeding was our first stop. Those who opted to feed them were let into the enclosure with a couple handfuls of halved grapes. The lemurs we waiting excitedly as they saw us approaching their enclosure – they knew that approaching people meant feeding time for them! We spent about 10-15 minutes with the lemurs before heading out (there were also some interesting near turkey-sized spotted birds, and tiny deer-like animals wandering about in the enclosure who were all too happy to pick up any dropped grapes).
After leaving the lemurs, we walked around the immediate area a bit, checking out a few of the smaller animals before the official safari portion began. There were the normal farm animals such as chickens and pigs, but we also saw ostriches, a couple of porcupines, a hungry hungry tortoise, and some monkeys. While I was looking at the monkeys and taking a few pictures, I noticed that one of them was verrrrrry interested in my camera bag, and tried to convince me to give it to him. You can see him reaching for it in my picture. Of course, I didn’t fall for his tricks, no matter how cute he looked as he begged.
Next we headed over to the otter area. We didn’t pay to feed them, but we were able to get just as close and watch the people who did pay as they fed them sardines – or are the anchovies? What’s the difference between sardines and anchovies anyway?
After the feeding of the otters, it was time for the real safari to start. We boarded the safari vehicle and were off.
One of the first things we saw en-route was a small group of zebra… but take a look at the picture below. Do you notice something odd about the zebra in front?
The picture on the right – Wait a minute, that’s not a zebra! Actually, it is. Well, half zebra at least. It’s a zedonk – part zebra, part donkey. This little critter was not bred on purpose; one of the donkeys managed to sneak in some private time with a zebra, despite all efforts to keep them apart. From that union came the zedonk!
Here’s another unusual zebra picture… check out it’s trippy stripe pattern!
And now, on to the main attractions of the event… the feeding of the giraffes! This is such a unique experience – definitely one of the highlights of the tour. I can’t recommend it enough! The whole process is simple – each person gets a good helping of lettuce or greens, whatever the giraffes are eating that day. You then offer the food to the giraffes with your palms up, arms outstretched, they then bend their long necks down to reach the food, wrapping their tongues and lips around the goodies as they take them from you ever so gently… almost as if they’ve done this before!
After the giraffes had their fill and everyone had the chance to feed them, we were off to feed and bathe the rhinoceros. It seemed kind of crazy that we would be getting close enough to a rhino to feed it by hand, but as we soon learned, they are a lot more docile than they look. While feeding him, he actually seemed even more delicate with taking the food than the giraffes had been. And he really seemed to enjoy getting sprayed by the hose as he ate. Lucky rhino… who among us hasn’t dreamed of eating a meal in the shower?
We said farewell to the rhino and continued the tour. Next up – the pygmy hippos. Now THESE are creatures you wouldn’t want to get too close to. Hippopotami kill almost 3000 people a year (I doubt these two were implicated with any of the killings, though you still wouldn’t want to go swimming with them).
Speaking of hippos, did you know that early on in the colonization of America there was talk of importing hippos to the marshy areas of Louisiana and breeding them for meat purposes? It’s true! The bill (appropriately called the “American Hippo Bill”) was actually introduced to congress. Don’t believe me? Google it, I’ll wait. It failed to pass the vote, but it did come close… you have no idea how close you came to enjoying a nice hippopotamus steak!
The tour ended on a high note with a visit from the camels. These guys have faces that always make me smile. Their lips hang down in a perpetual pout as they amble up to the vehicle hoping for a handout, and sticking up their noses to the green beans offered.
And now, as I promised in the beginning, here is the video version of my trip above. I hope you enjoy it! And if you are in the Tampa Bay area and looking for something unique to do, definitely check out the Giraffe Ranch at Dade City – and let me know what you think! http://girafferanch.com/