Safari Wilderness in Dade City

You could see them in the distance, looking, at the ready.  One astute lemur spied us paddling across the water, and alerted the rest of the group. By the time we pulled our kayak on to the shore of Lemur Island, a handful of them stood upright and began bounding towards us on their hind legs.

They knew we had something they wanted -- grapes.

“They’re very anxious to meet you,” said Lex Salisbury, the former director of the Lowry Park Zoo and founder of Safari Wildness, where the lemurs live.

The kayak adventure to Lemur Island is the newest way to see Safari Wilderness. You can also ride atop a camel and take a guided tour, or jump onto a rugged open-air vehicle. It is quite an experience.

Safari Wilderness is located in the Green Swamp in Polk County. It encompasses 260 acres of primarily open land. Just about as natural as it gets.

The animals wander in herds just as they would in nature.

“Going to Africa I realized the Africans are way ahead of us,” Salisbury said to me as he gazed across the terrain. We were standing on what might be described as a massive treehouse, the perfect spot to take it all in.

“What (the Africans) do is they don’t put animals  in inner city parks and call them zoos. They take old abandoned cattle farms and turn them into game farms,” he said.

Salisbury has created a safari that you don’t have to travel halfway around the world to experience. It’s in our own backyard, less than an hour from both Tampa and Orlando.

No matter how you soak in the experience, you’re sure to learn a lot about the animals that live there. They hail from six different continents. 

(Lemurs, by the way, are native to Madagascar, the only place in the world that they exist in the wild.)

If you want to meet them or any of the many animals that live there, go to

Florida residents will get half off the cost of the kayak trip to Lemur Island, bringing the price down to $75 a person.