Florida on a Tankful: Pumpkin safaris end with lemur feedings

By Scott Fais, Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, October 12, 2017, 8:00 AM EDT

When you think pumpkin patches in Florida, several things come to mind this time of year: 

    A cold bottle of water is more valuable than a cup of cider.
    Shorts are a necessity when the heat index is 94 degrees F (although
    they can lead to an itchy hayride).
    Sunscreen is a must.
    And that pumpkin, most likely was grown hours away.

While the color orange is all the rage, you may be ready for something different.  In Polk County, there's a different way to roll through the pumpkin patch this year.

"Everybody come to the road,” shouts safari truck driver Jeanie James over an old school bus engine.

"JJ" as she’s calling is calling a group of llamas over to be fed.  Imagine this adventure to be a hay ride of another kind, just minus the hay.

"There's some adults and babies out there,” Jeanie says looking across a pasture at Safari Wilderness.

In the heart of Polk County, awaits the Pumpkin Safari.

"They are going to come up on either side of the bus,” Jeanie says about a heard of water cattle from Africa.

The tours give animal lovers like Susan Henley a trip to Africa without leaving rural Lakeland.

"This is a very unique experience,” Susan said with animal slobber still drying on her hands.

"First and foremost, you're riding around in a school bus type vehicle that's open air,” Susan said of the bouncy ride.

From this old school bus, Safari Wilderness makes several stops to see, and feed, animals from Africa and Asia.

"You can smell the animals.  They are coming up to the windows, they are following you around,” Susan said with a grin.

While the 60-minute bus ride is fun, there’s more animal encounters back on land. Just like the inside of a pumpkin is somewhat tactile and feels somewhat different than anything else on earth, so does the paw of a lemur.

"Come here baby. Oh my goodness. You want one?" Susan asks a lemur.

Safari Wilderness’ lemur family captivated Susan.

"Oh my goodness! Look at them!" She exclaimed. "Your little cheeks are all full."

Feeding grapes to the troop of gentle ring-tailed lemur's from Madagascar is an additional charge. Susan's expression says it worth it.

"They would just grab your little hand, and pull it close and go for the grapes. And they were very gentle,” she said with amazement.

Pumpkin Safaris end at a pumpkin painting or carving station. Folks can sit and get creative while watching camels in the distance, or while barn cats smooth your ankles.

Know Before You Go:
The Pumpkin Safari’s at Safari Wilderness take place on Saturday and Sunday only. Reservations are not needed, but are a smart idea. Get more information here.

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