Wildlife Safari in Florida

This week I went on safari in Florida. Really, I went to a meeting but it took place at a wildlife conservation center so we got to have some wonderful adventures while we were there.

I arrived Tuesday night without knowing much about this place. My poor car was not prepared for the offroad adventure back to the conference center.

I took my time driving back to the main gates of White Oak Conservation where I was greeted and given instructions to our house. I was pretty sure we were staying in a cabin, like at summer camp. But this place is nothing like any camp you’ve ever been to. All the lodging are houses full of artifacts like mini natural history museums. Our house included a room full of furniture that used to belong to Ulysses S Grant.

The next morning, my friend, Sarah Mae, and I got up to watch the sun rise over the St. Mary River. Across from our house was Georgia. It was absolutely lovely and calm.

Safari

After our first full day of meetings, we went on a trolley safari around the property. White Oak has been around since 1768 but became a conservation organization in 1982 created by philanthropist Howard Gilman. The current property focuses on some of the most endangered species in the world, including rhinos, okapi, Florida panthers and cranes.

We were picked up to explore the conservation center by a trolley. You can take the safari by trolley or horseback, which seems like a cool option to me. Our first stop was to see the white rhinos. They recently had a couple of babies and we got to see one that was only three weeks old.

He was an adorable little nugget, hanging out with his mom. The next rhino we saw was a male rhino who we had the opportunity to pet!

He was very calm and it was interesting to watch him eat. He made a lot of noise.

This rhino (I can’t remember his name) was used as the voice for Drogon in the last season of Game of Thrones. I haven’t seen it but I thought many people would find that interesting.

When we left the rhino herds, we passed several species of hoofed animals. These damas were adorable with their little babies.

Then we passed the cheetah enclosures. However, we weren’t worth waking up for (like most cats).

Then we got to the Okapi enclosure. These guys are quite fascinating and people thought they were made up, like bigfoot or the Loc Ness Monster.

Fun fact, they can lick they eyeball with their tongue, like a gecko. They are most closely related to the giraffe, which was the next group of animals we got to see. I got to feed an adult female giraffe:

We also got a few of the young ones to come over and I got to feed a young giraffe as well.

Unfortunately, after feeding the giraffes, it was time to head back to the lodge for dinner. All of the meals here were amazing! The main bar used to belong to Al Capone:

Fun Neighbors

The next day, I got up and was told there was a young alligator out our back door. The river was so calm I was able to get shots of him with the reflections of the plants around him. He was a great subject.

After our meetings that day (which were amazing and uplifting), I took the van back to my house to look at my photos from the day before.  On the way, I finally got to meet a gopher tortoise!

These guys are listed as vulnerable and are protected throughout their range in Georgia and Florida because they are a keystone species. They build burrows they live in and more than 350 species utilize their burrows as homes as well. After another amazing dinner that night, we set off in the trolleys once more. This time on a night hike.

Night hike

Although we were setting off on a night hike rather than a safari, the walk began with a tour of a few of the animals we hadn’t seen before. This property has four species of rhinos and the day before we had only seen white rhinos. So our trip began with meeting an Indian Rhino. These guys are identifiable by their rear end. I believe they called it a skirt:

This guy is on his own because he’s considered a bully among the rhinos. We were told to watch out and make sure he didn’t turn his back on us because he likes to pee on people. He didn’t even turn. He just shot it sideways. Thankfully he missed me but got two of my colleagues.

Then we passed one of the black rhinos. The white rhinos have big, wide lips because they are major grazers. The black rhinos apparently are more particular and have a prehensile lip and a much pointier horn:

Once we passed all the rhinos, we headed off onto a trail through the swamp. The frogs were amazing. Mostly green tree frogs and grass frogs. We also heard a leopard frog or two. The sunset was amazing through the trees and the planets and moon were very bright.

It was a great way to wrap up our time talking about how to support our network of climate change interpreters and how our organization is going to move forward. I am so glad to be more involved with this group again. If you’re interested in learning more about how to effectively communicate about climate change, check out our website: NNOCCI.

Did you know that outside of Africa, Florida is home to the largest number of Rhinos? Neither did I, but next time you’re headed this way, let me know and we’ll go on their horseback safari!

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