1. Humps and bumps
Going on a camel safari was the thing I was most excited about. You just walk up some stairs onto a platform to get on your camel, so mounting isn’t a problem. My husband Paul has ridden a lot of horses, but this was his first time on a camel.
We toured the Ranch once we’d all mounted.
I learned a lot about exotic animals.
I also learned that riding a camel isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world.
But I liked my camel. His name was Clay. I took a selfie with him, and he started edging over for a kiss.
He had a very soft nose, and he smelled like fresh hay.
2. A tall order
We climbed in special vehicle with open sides to drive over and meet the giraffes. This put us at eye-level with these leggy creatures, which came to nosh on the branches we’d brought as bribes.
3. Cool down
I think I got almost as wet as the rhinos we got to hose off.
It felt amazing to be so close to such enormous creatures, to feel the texture of their skin and look into their eyes. And yet, they were gentle. They were curious about us, poking their heads in our direction.
We got to feed them cabbage, and I actually had my hand inside one's mouth.
I didn’t kiss him. I draw the line at camels.
4. Grabby hands
Hand-feeding lemurs grapes turned out to be my favorite part of the adventure.
These tiny primates have enormous eyes and soft, nimble fingers. Their tails were extravagant, long affairs, striped with decorative rings. They were cute. One steadied my trembling hands with his while he ate my offering.
But as soon as he was done, he was off to another person holding a grape.
5. Get up close and personal
The level of interaction with the animals is amazing, like nothing you’d ever experience at a zoo. For example, when Barb asked how much this tortoise weighed, she was invited to pick him up and see for herself.
Lex, the owner and manager of the Ranch, believes that when people begin to not only learn about, but have relationships with animals, that they start to care about them and their fate in the wild.
I hope this is true. For me, the experience was utterly unique and utterly unforgettable.
You can also enjoy many of these experiences, including a camel-back safari, in Lakeland at the Safari Wilderness Ranch, the Giraffe Ranch’s sister property.
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA