The amazing world of White Oak Plantation

Mr. Greenhorn and I were given a unique opportunity to visit a faraway land, that’s actually only about an hour from Jacksonville.

It’s called White Oak Plantation and Animal Conservation Center. And, it’s amazing.

You can read the Gilman Foundation website  and Google for the Gilman family / Gilman Paper Company stories and the amazing Howard Gilman, who started the White Oak Conservation Center (WOCC).

Basically, from Russia then came to NY and started the Gilman Paper Company. The paper company was less remarkable from what I gather and eventually went out of business, however, the last direct descendent, Howard Gilman decided that as paper manufacturers, he had an obligation to give back to nature.

So, on one of the company’s tree farms in Yulee, Florida (right on the FL/GA line), he started an animal conservation center! What better for endangered animals than almost 8,000 acres of protected, private land in an environment that most were compatible with?

Turns out, animals really prefer huge open spaces with minimal human interference. Especially for breeding. Go figure. 😉

So, although Mr. Gilman is deceased, he has an amazing place with so much to offer people and animals.

It was a long highway drive to where we were going…

that turned into a lengthy, scenic road...

that turned into a primitive, natural drive path. 

One of the more kept dirt parts.

Before we even got to the animal center, we had our share of animal encounters.

Like this early morning gator sighting in the river.

And the deer that jumped across right in front of us!

Yeah, we were going 30, and then dropped it to around 10 mph to be safe.

Once we made it to the guard shack, he pointed us the way to the main club house where we parked and met our group.

This is the entrance foyer. We loved the wooden rhino! And went exploring down that long hall.

Jeremy wanted to buy it. I just wanted to move in. I already mentioned amazing, right?

The long hallway is packed with posters of movies, plays and other performance art promotions. Almost all of them are signed by celebrities with love and praises for Gilman and the WOCC.

Like this one from Betty White! Can you see the reflection of others?

After a welcome movie and coffee, we got to tour the Baryshnikov Dance Studio.

That's our tour guide. The space was beautiful! And we missed Baryshnikov by one week. Drat!

Then, it was time to board the bus to see the animals. There are so many! Many of which I wasn’t able to photograph because their space is so large they can be camera-shy.

Like this Hairy Rhino. He was my favorite! So small for a rhino and he was covered in hair. Weird.

Others were happy to come check us out:

Black Rhinos

The baby in front is George! The guy in the background is his buddy, Tank.

Okapi

Stripey butt! Aren't they awesome? Okapis are super unique and NOT related to zebras but giraffes.

Grevy’s Zebra

I love their ears!

I seriously couldn’t get over all their space. This is maybe almost a quarter of it:

Beautiful day in zebra territory.

Somali Wild Ass

One of the ladies on our tour thought the bus driver announced that this was the "Smelly" Wild Ass. I was laughing too hard to take a picture, so this one is from the WOCC website.

Giraffe

The brave one came to scout our noisy bunch.

We also saw a ton of birds and didn’t get close-ups with the addras, tortoises, tigers, antelope and some others. One of the elusive animals was the panther who was apparently adopted / befriended by a dog on the premises. They were so cute but too far away to snag a picture of.

The WOCC works with many other organizations and countries for animal conservation efforts. For example, a cheetah who had been in a zoo and unsuccessful at breeding for four years, was shipped to WOCC and was pregnant within a couple months! It’s a romantic place, I guess, haha. 

10 points if you can spot her and the cubs in the pine straw!

They have so many animals and it is really awesome to see them from afar and with friends because they have a herd, not because their cage is only 200 square feet. They of course have fences, but I think it’s more to keep the human out. I felt like I was the one in the zoo  because of the animals looks. They’d wander up then get bored with us all ooing and ahing and snapping pictures, and they’d walk off with us trapped in the bus behind the fence. 🙂

After the bus tour they served us a truly delicious lunch perfect for a crisp fall day.

Mmmmmmmmm

After lunch, we were encouraged to ask questions or go back to visit any of the animals and visit the gift shop. We bought Jeremy a hat and my Mom a giant glossy photo book. I wanted this little guy!

So cute!

All in all, I can’t believe I had never even heard of this place until August this year. And for anyone wondering, I went in October, which I would highly recommend. I wouldn’t want to be on that open-air bus during Florida’s July or January. I would, however, be happy to host an event or volunteer there any time of year.

It is definitely one of the most interesting places I’ve gotten to visit. It’s pricey and limited but I would still encourage anyone to try to go. And, a family reunion or girls/guys weekend there would be spectacular. They have cabins and all kinds of amenities like golf and tennis.

Hope you are having a great week. A new year comes with the weekend, and I can’t wait!

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