I visit many animal encounters, adventures, safaris, zoos, and a host of other titles for my job, but Safari Wilderness blew me away. I loved seeing the animals thriving in a place with a stellar reputation. Safari Wilderness is hands-down Florida’s most unique animal attraction. Located in Lakeland, part of Polk County, about 20 minutes from Celebration and Orlando, Safari Wilderness ranch is a once-in-a-lifetime visit with exotic animals in the United States. Let’s explore.
A Fine Animal Attraction
Touting themselves as neither a theme park nor zoo, this ride through attraction is rich in every way. Hop aboard a safari vehicle with stadium seating and shade canopies as you ride through 260 gorgeous acres of wilderness. There are no crowds to contend with, and your guide is an expert. Camels, lemurs, zebra, and water buffalo are just some of the curious creatures waiting to meet you…and eat the treats you provide.
Our first encounter was at check-in, with Penelope the pig, the hostess with the mostess. She is joined by several outdoor cats and a pen of sweet little guinea pigs, who are very vocal. Once aboard the safari vehicle (use the restroom first, it is a bumpy ride and you will be out around two hours), the emus are the first stop.
Driving through the makeshift Serengeti, with the warm Florida sun beating down and near silence other than the animals and our vehicle, you get the feeling you are on an African safari somewhere far, far away. We stopped our truck and were greeted by an ostrich who nearly climbed in the vehicle with us to get some treats. You can hand-feed all of the animals that we stop for, and if you are scared or nervous, your guide will show you the proper way. If I can do it, anyone can!
Warthogs came next. These cute tail-wagging little guys came running to see us and were disappointed when we didn’t have warthog approved treats. Of course, we were quickly reminded of The Lion King, which brought the animal to every child’s vocabulary as they stared at us with those cute eyes.
The next 20 to 30 minutes were exploring the property and seeing exotic animals, such as Watusi cattle, eland, sitatunga (white stripes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and axis deer. Many of them came up to see us while others peered from the shade and comfort of the trees. Our guide explained the animal’s intelligence, where they are found globally, and what traits about the animals.
No Drama Llama
When we neared the llamas, they literally flew over to us. Llamas are big-time beggers, and we couldn’t feed them as fast as they wanted. The llamas’ setting was with the water buffalo, which slowly climbed out of the refreshing pond they had been soaking in to get in on the free food.
The three of us fed the animals as quickly as possible, and they were all very friendly. Surprisingly, the water buffalo just shoved their tongues to the side and allowed us to toss the food pellets in their mouths. They were very tame and loved getting petted. Besides the slobbers hanging from their mouths, they were perfect.
Need a place to stay before or after your trip? Forty minutes away is the new LEGOLAND Pirate Island Hotel, an excellent offering for the entire family and 130 steps away from the theme park entrance.
The oldest water buffalo didn’t bother coming up; I think it may be on her last leg, but our guide often takes treats down to her. It didn’t take long for the water buffalo to be our favorite animals of the whole safari.
So Many Awesome Animals
Safari Wilderness has many exotic animals. I was glad to know that they reproduce naturally, which means they are acclimated and like where they live. You can see how well cared for the animals are. The Grant’s zebra was beautiful and majestic, plus had a few babies running around. They were so fun to watch!
The stars of Safari Wilderness are the camels. Two single humps and one double hump camel rule the roost of the property and are eating machines. They smelled, licked, and nearly ate our cameras while trying to get as much food as possible. They, too, enjoyed being petted and are big fans of the safari vehicles with people.
An Awesome Animal Encounter
You might say that Safari Wilderness saved the best for last. Had I not been so spellbound over the water buffalos sweet nature, I would have agreed. We exited the safari vehicle and walked into the ring-tailed lemurs’ quarters.
Probably a dozen lemurs were perched in window cut-outs and on ledges and kept track of our every move. One even had her baby riding around on her back, which was so sweet. We were instructed to stand to one side of a structure where they would walk out onto to get their special treats, tiny bits of red grapes.
Lemurs are friendly and sweet animals who gently grasp your hand with their velvety paws while they are eating. They can only eat small bits at a time, so we had to be extremely careful during this part of the tour. Lemurs do not like to be petted. Be sure to offer the food only, and don’t worry; they don’t bite.
A Wonderful Central Florida Day
Our time at Safari Wilderness was one I won’t forget. I’ve never been so close to so many cool and exotic animals at one time. I enjoyed seeing the property from the backseat of the truck and loved feeding the animals. Safari Wilderness has a few add-ons you can include with your general admission ticket for unique encounters like the lemur feeding. Both guided tours and drive-through in your vehicles are allowed, with prices varying for each option. This is a Central Florida offering that is hard to top.
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