As long as I could remember I have always loved animals, the bigger, the better. When I was little, I would request my parents to subscribe to National Geographic magazines or buy me books about animals. I remember even going through a phase of always wanting to learn how to draw animals; my parents bought me "How to Draw insert animal" books galore. They still have a majority of these books. It wasn't until high school, I thought to work with animals, either via preservation or animal care would have been my calling. Then I quickly found out there is no money it; well not for the lifestyle, I desired. Instead, my career path shifted. Now rather than being paid for helping with conservation methods, I choose to donate.
For those that have had the pleasure of coming to our home, know my obsession with African animals, with my favorite being Elephants and Rhinos. Last year we made my first "safari" happen, last November our family did a day tour at White Oak Conservation. I stumbled upon their website by accident; a few years ago I was searching for a drive-through animal encounter and google just so happened to find me White Oak. Can probably give credit to this mistake for using my location during the search. White Oak Conservation is located here in Northeast Florida, in an area called Yulee, roughly an hour outside of Jacksonville. The property is located along the St. Mary's river straddling Florida and Georgia. Owning over 16,000 acres, which is necessary with eight different animal preservation programs. Not all of the land is dedicated to animals; they also have a farm where they try to grow the majority of the animals food along with the food that is served at their lunches and evening events. White Oak not only helps with conservation of endangered animals, but they also conduct research that enables animal survival by partnering with other facilities and scientists worldwide. They offer many different experiences depending on your level of enthusiasm, from the Wednesday and Friday day tours, summer camps, and even an option for corporate meetings/retreats.
To say that this place is amazing is an understatement.Since last November we have returned for an evening event, plan on returning for another event this fall, and a day tour in 2019 when they add their ninth preservation program. (Fingers crossed on the ninth program kinks to work out.) We are also looking to swing summer camp for Little Man, but that will be a couple of years as children must be eight to participate.
"I guess you can say we are pretty serious." ~ Kip Dynamite
Even though we have done a day tour and one of their evening events, they are vastly different. The day tour is much more of an encounter experience mixed with education. We were able to get close up to all of the animals. Paxton's favorite animal is the Rhino due to this. Seeing these animals up close was nothing like I have ever experienced. The Rhino's were strong, appearing to be dressed in armor, their skin was tough, yet they were such gentle giants. However, you could see how powerful they could be as you watched the mother watch her young. Pictures do not do this animal justice. Getting close up to a Cheetah was pretty rad itself. White Oak has a special Cheetah, what makes this Cheetah so special? Hasari, the Cheetah, does not have a normal companion, she roams with an Anatolian Shepherd named Kadir. Yes, her best friend is a dog. I will save the story for White Oak to tell how this happened, but it is a heartwarming story. We lucked out and were able to see them play together. During both our visits, day and evening, we were fortunate to watch Hasari run, and she is fast. We were able to view all animals at a close distance, some ventured towards us and some stayed far away. However we did not get close to the Zebras, as we learned very quickly that they are MEAN. Within a couple of minutes of us pulling up, we watched a zebra-donkey kick two zebras back to back. The tour guide said that was normal, and they can be quite a paint in the... The day tour ended with the Giraffe encounter and lunch. Lunch was an add-on but we are glad we did it. We were able at the end to talk to other workers and get a good feel of the place, which is what solidified us to come back for an evening event.
Although I favored the day tour as having a Rhino lick you is a once in a lifetime experience, the evening event does not disappoint. Trey and I attended "Winos for Rhino's" event for my mother's day gift. The evening tours include dinner, and you guessed it wine lots of it. The vegetables all came from the garden, the meat and seafood are also locally sourced. White Oak also caters to vegans and vegetarians, so nobody is left out. The weather was perfect, and we had the best guide (again). Each animal stop was paired with food and more wine. Since the event was a Rhino benefit, our main visits were with their three different Rhino species. We were able to chat with the main Rhino caregiver and pick his brain with any questions we could come up with. Only a few months after our first visit there were triple the number of babies that we saw in November. It was lovely to see the little babes by their moms, as I was extra sappy with it being mothers day and consumed my three glasses of wine. The Okapi decided to make his appearance at this event, which was nice as he was not out during our day trip. We learned that White Oak is one of the leading breeders for Okapi and the Dama Gazelle. White Oak is also the ones who donate the Okapi to our local zoo. By the end of the tour, I had made two new friends, thanked every staff member personally, and wanted to give all my money to the cause. Maybe it was the wine, or perhaps I just was that proud of this organization. Who knows?
I cannot speak more positive about this foundation, and I will happily continue to donate. It feels good that I can see where my dollars are going, and know they are going to proper measures for these endangered animals. One day our family will voyage our way over for a real safari in Africa, but until my budget allows it, this will happily due.