Sunday, May 26, 2013

Giraffe Ranch - Dade City - Part 3

Camels are domesticated, which means they have been bred in captivity for over 500 years.  Long ago, it was thought that the hump stored water, but in fact it stores fat.  Camels have cushpads on their chest, like a step stool.  So when they lay down, it keeps them slightly elevated so they get airflow to cool off.

“There are 30 different species of hoof stock that may be extinct in our lifetime,”  said Sheppa.
 “When animals are put in the right environment and raised properly, they are brought into the future more substantially.”  As members of Zoological Association of America (ZAA), they get their animals from other members, through trade or purchase.
Visitors can tour the ranch in safari-type vehicles with stadium seating.  The jeep like trucks with covered awnings hold 20 people and allow for up close and personal encounters with the animals.  For the more authentic safari feel, guests can tour the ranch on camel back.  The 60-90 minute tour is led by two experienced guides and the cost is $150 per person, for this (possibly) once in a lifetime adventure.  The camel tour is offered for children 3 years and older, and 3-5 year olds must ride with an adult.

For an additional $20 per person, visitors get the opportunity to feed Ring-tailed lemurs.  The gentle creatures don’t like to be pet, but they will hold your hand while you feed them grapes to munch on. Salisbury relayed the first time he held a guerilla’s hand, in 1981.  “The experience is burned into my brain.  It is such an emotional experience to holds hands with a primate,” said Salisbury.

As you take the tour, you will be educated and entertained by the stories the knowledgeable tour guides will share.  We have always heard that elephants never forget, well neither do warthogs.  Fred and Ethel have a nice shady area they share with their baby.  While the new pen was being built, they were staying in a barn.  A dog named Pip liked to bark at Ethel, to get her to play, but she wanted no part of it.  One night it was getting a little cool, so they added more hay to Ethel’s bed to keep her warm.  The ingenious wart hog piled up the hay high enough so that she could escape.  With her newly found freedom, she went up to the house and checked each door until she found one she could nudge open.  Salisbury heard a tussle in the kitchen and rushed in to find Ethel giving the dog a piece of her mind!  So, the lesson of the day – don’t ever get a warthog mad at you, they will remember, and they will find you!

A good sign of a successful ranch are the number of babies born.  The ranch has had many babies over the years.  A baby zebra was born in August.  When the baby was born the zebras forced the older sibling out of the herd.  “It’s like sending them off to college,” said Alex, Salisbury’s son and a tour guide on the ranch.  Zebras run in the large open grassy area and enjoy cooling off in the shade of the many oak trees.

Axis deeer, blackbuck antelope, pygmy hippopotamus, Indian rhinoceros, and many more animals call Giraffe Ranch their home.  Exotic animals are not the only species, on this working ranch.  Geese, hens, and other domestic fowl have their place on the ranch.  The hens produce free range eggs, up to six dozen per day.  They sell the eggs to help support the ranch.

Nature lovers and horticulturists will enjoy seeing the 450 year old live oak tree that lives on the ranch.  A 100 year old Orchid is growing high in a tree, but it is protected by a cage to ensure it isn’t dessert for the wandering Giraffes.  Our tour guide informed us that a wilted Resurrection Fern will come to life when sprayed with water. 

The wetlands serve as a native wildlife preserve, where 200 birds come to roost at night in the shallow water.  This is a way to protect themselves from predators.  If a bobcat tries to attack, the splash of the water will awaken the sleeping birds and give them the opportunity to escape.

Reservations are required, with tours at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.  The cost to enjoy a day on the ranch is $59.99 for adults (12 & up); $49.99 for children (ages 2-11), $54.99 for seniors (65 & up) with discounts available for groups.  Be sure to wear close toed shoes, and a hat, sunscreen and long pants are recommended. The cost is comparable to what you pay at other animal parks in the area, but you don’t have to endure long lines and crowds.
It is amazing to discover how we are connected with the animals on the ranch.  From the Giraffe that shares the same number of vertebrae that humans do, and the horns of the rhinocerous that are made of keratin (like our skin and nails) to the gentle way Lemurs and monkeys like to hold your hand.  We are put on this earth to take care of it and other living creatures, and places like Giraffe Ranch are a great reminder of this important purpose.

(Part 3 of 3)

*Previously published in LOLANews

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