A new home where animals can roam
Wild Florida safari covers 85 acres in Osceola County
Daniel Munns has wanted a giraffe at Wild Florida since even before he and friends opened the Osceola County attraction in 2010. But when he first mentioned the idea to the founding team, they laughed.
“We told him, ‘OK, dude, don’t ever say that again,’” cofounder Sam Haught recalled during an interview on Friday.
Now, Munns is having the last laugh. Leroy, the 2-year-old, 13-foot-tall giraffe, will be one of two featured in a new, 85-acre safari that opens at Wild Florida in Kenansville on Saturday.
“It was a laughing point because it wasn’t realistic at the time,” said Munns, who had been planning to build the gator-centric Wild Florida park with his team at the time. “Now, it is.”
The $2.5 million feature includes a winding, 2-mile driving path that snakes through an area that is enclosed but does not contain cages for the animals. It greatly expands on what had been a 15-acre site that focused primarily on alligators.
The gator area is now included in the price of the safari, which has animals like zebras, Watusis, wildebeests and large Asian antelope known as nilgai or blue bulls roaming the area.
Wild Florida is certainly not
the first safari in Florida, where the warm yearround weather has made it a comfortable place for African animals. A 110-acre safari at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom has been bringing visitors up close to lions, elephants and cheetahs since it opened in April 1998.
The 600-acre Lion Country Safari Park in Loxahatchee has been around since 1967. But Wild Florida’s safari represents the first in Osceola County.
Some of the animals at the 75-employee park had to be simply migrated from Wild Florida’s existing walkthrough park area.
Others, like the giraffe, had to be acquired from other locations.
“This has been the most fun part of our career,” Haught said. “Our whole family has been dreaming this up and has wanted to do it forever.”
On a recent trek through the safari, a flock of Mouflon sheep looked on curiously as the Ford F-250 with the Wild Florida logo on its side inched past.
The tour stopped briefly as a herd of water buffalo blocked the truck’s path.
Zebras, wildebeests and dual-horned Oryxes generally kept their distance. A camel named Elvis, however, was a bit more curious. He approached the vehicle and popped his head in.
“The animals here are mostly animals that one of us said, ‘We’d like to see one here,’” Haught said.
As the park gets set to open, Haught said anyone who has an issue with animals in captivity should support Wild Florida.
“Some of these animals have been in captivity their whole life,” said Haught, who challenged those who want to see how the animals are treated to visit the park before they judge it.
“This is probably the most-plush area they have ever had. We have gone above and beyond the requirements for these animals.”
Eventually, Haught wants to install a zipline over the parks near a patch of cypress trees.
The safari costs $29 for adults and $20 for kids and includes entry to the main park.
As for the giraffes, Munns said he first thought of the idea to bring some to Wild Florida when he visited an animal exhibit at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee in 2007.
A handler there gave him some advice. The key for any new animal attraction? Have something exotic.
“He said if we wanted to put ourselves on the map, we would need a giraffe,” he said. “I said at the time, ‘Who needs a giraffe?’ But it seems to draw some attention. I wake up in the morning now and say, ‘Wow, we have a giraffe.’”
Sam Haught, of Wild Florida, feeds a giraffe during a preview of the Kenansville park’s safari, which opens its self-guided, 2-mile driving tour on Saturday.
A Kilimanjaro Safaris truck makes its way through the Wild Africa Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The 3-hour tour through the Safi River Valley features exotic African wildlife. Wild Florida is the latest safari addition to the state.