If you crane your neck just enough, you might see a giraffe in Dade City.
Or, you could just take an actual safari on the grasslands at Giraffe Ranch.
For 20 years now, wife-and-husband owners Elena Sheppa and Lex Salisbury have run a hands-on, working game farm and wildlife preserve tucked away off U.S. 301, offering tours, animal interactions and, of course, ecological information.
“What we’re trying to do here is have a working classroom,” said Sheppa, who provides informative tours. “We want to show people animals, get them close, but also keep it safe for the animals. … If you’re lucky enough to go on safari in Africa and you get a good guide, they’ll talk about anything — local plant life, astronomy, fauna, plant life — and there’s just so much (out) here.
“Every tour is different and it changes all the time (depending on the season), so what we offer is really dynamic.”
Giraffe Ranch offers five kinds of safaris, all with a very talkative guide. There is the drive-thru option, where visitors (up to seven) stay in the car and an FM radio station provides real-time commentary. There also are tours that can be taken on camel-back, by Segway or by walking with a llama.
The most comprehensive tour is offered in a customized four-wheel-drive tour vehicle, which provides a comfortable ride and safety, as well as terrific up-close views of all the animals. This tour offers a giraffe feeding session that is a must for any lover of the longnecks.
“We love animals as a family, but my daughter really likes giraffes, so this was just a no-brainer,” said Donna Doychak, who was visiting the attraction from Connecticut with her family. “It was a lot of fun and something different. It was just an amazing and very informative tour.”
For some, it’s a way to get an African safari without traveling across the Atlantic.
“I want to go see giraffes in Africa, but I thought this might be the next best thing (laughs), and I loved it,” said Tyeast Harris, who took the safari for her birthday while visiting from Illinois. “The close encounter (with the giraffes) was just incredible because I love exotic animals. Full recommend for the tour!”
Safaris and tours can be customized, almost a la carte. Giraffe Ranch also offers encounters with a rhino, as well as cheetahs. Visitors also can purchase feedings of otters and ring-tailed lemurs.
“Those feedings are quite popular, but (the animals), especially the otters, do beg quite a bit,” Sheppa said with a smile.
While Giraffe Ranch is considered a tourist attraction, Sheppa says that locally, the drive-thru safari has become quite popular. It’s an affordable, easy activity, one that, like many things, was created during early COVID times.
“And I think some people like staying in their vehicle, too,” Sheppa added.
Giraffe Ranch is by reservation only, as it does not allow walk-ups or spontaneous visitors. But, then again, it’s like an African safari — only in Dade City.
“We just wanted to get people to come and see animals, and learn more about them,” Sheppa said. “You will see our ongoing conservation efforts with endangered species, including some that are extinct in the wild. And you’re going to leave here having learned something. That, and the animals, has always been important to us.”
Where: 38650 Mickler Road, Dade City
When: While Giraffe Ranch is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., reservations are required to visit the park or take a tour.
Cost: Custom vehicle tours ($119); camel, Segway and llama treks ($239) can be booked online and run at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., daily. Drive-thru safaris ($150) occur hourly from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and must be booked online. Tours are two hours to three hours long.
Reservations: Visit GiraffeRanch.com.
Info: Email .
Published August 10, 2022