How you can go on an African Safari without leaving Central Florida

Safari Wilderness Ranch takes visitors on a wild ride

ORLANDO, Fla. – Feed a cheetah, take a selfie with an ostrich, and see native African animals without leaving Central Florida.

The Safari Wilderness Ranch lets guests feel like they are in the motherland while skipping the expensive price tag.

“We have a lot of endangered species here, animals that are extinct in the wild, animals that need a place,” said owner Lex Salisbury. “And this is, I think the next evolution for zoos.”

Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden took their podcast Florida’s Fourth Estate on the road to check out the one-of-a-kind experience in Lakeland.

Salisbury tells them turning an old abandoned cattle farm into a place where families can get up close and personal with wildlife is a combination of passion and years of experience.

“I’ve been working with animals for a really long time since I was, I guess, 18, I’m 64 now. I’ve worked in zoos in England, Australia. I ran Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa for 21 years. And I’ve been to Africa, like I said, 30 times,” Salisbury said.

Zebras graze at Safari Wilderness Ranch. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

He said bringing a slice of the Savanna to Central Florida wasn’t a stretch.

“Believe it or not, the big five in Africa, most of them used to live here. If you go to any natural history museum, you can see the diagrams of the animals that lived in Florida,” Salisbury said. “Lions are from here. Cheetah are from here. Elephants are from here. Rhino are from here...camels evolved in North America.”

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He says fossils show elephants roamed Florida as recently as 10,000 years ago.

And, if you want to go back in time and see the wild animals in a natural habitat, Salisbury offers several options, including a Camel Safari Tour, a Kayak Safari Tour, ATV Safari Tour, Custom Vehicle Safari Tour, and a Drive-Thru Safari Tour.

Salisbury says the Drive-Thru Safari Tour is very popular right now, because it’s “the least expensive” and allows families to “take seven people put them in a vehicle. The guide is on an ATV with a transmitter and you adjust your FM radio in your car, and they tell you all about the 600 animals here.”

He says the Custom Vehicle Safari Tour is also very intimate and really makes it feel like you are back in Africa.

Some of the animals at Safari Wilderness Ranch. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

If you want to get hands-on with the animals you can opt to feed ring-tailed lemurs and a colony of guinea pigs.

After all of that, Salisbury says some people don’t want to go home, but instead decide to glamp in the tents he had custom-made in Africa.

To learn more watch download Florida’s Fourth Estate from wherever you listen to podcasts or watch anytime on News 6+.

You can also book a tour at

You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below:

About the Author:

Tiffany produces the News 6+ Takeover at 5:30 p.m., Florida's Fourth Estate and Talk to Tom.