- Katherine Dudley Hoehn
Family Adventure - Carson Springs
Recently my siblings, one of my nieces, and I had an adventure outside Gainesville that we’re still talking about.
We visited Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation, a sanctuary. All of us are lovers of the outdoors, have a sense of adventure, and can be a little bit childish when we get together. It was a perfect combination for the adventure ahead.
We signed up for a private tour where we would ride motorized vehicles (disability scooters) that had been camouflaged in plush animal suits. Weeks in advance, we talked about how much fun it would be and what animal we each would ride.
When we arrived at the sanctuary, we were greeted by Anna, the staff member who would lead our tour. She introduced us to the pack of vehicles from which to choose. Keeping in mind that the average age of the three siblings is 62, you can imagine Anna’s surprise when we acted like 10-year-olds as we chose our animals. We all ended up with animals that reflected our personalities. I conceded to my younger sister and took the leopard over the zebra because I was torn between the two and she really wanted the zebra. Of course, my brother, the middle child, knew at once he wanted to be the warthog. Niece Emily, in her 30’s, behaved the most maturely of four of us and chose the rhinoceros.
At that point, Anna, who probably felt she'd drawn the short straw for tours that day, simply observed as we mounted our fuzzy vehicles and learned, somewhat awkwardly, how to move forward, backward, and stop. The warthog rear-ended all of us at least a few times, feigning innocence. We knew better. Anna had seen it all before.
Immediately the warthog and rhinoceros jockeys (father and daughter) found the switches to override their speed limits. We wondered why they were zipping around so fast.
Riding motorized animals made the adventure more fun. However, we were there to respectfully observe what they do at the facility and learn about the more than 25 endangered species they house and support conservation of.
We met Cheetahs, many Lemurs (Red ruffed, black and white ruffed, and ring tailed), the Indian Rhino, Tigers, Striped Hyenas, Caracals, Clouded Leopards, a Lioness, Pumas, Spotted Hyenas, Warthogs, Sulcata, Tortoises, Jaguars, Kune Kune Pigs, and Servals. There were more animals that we did not have time to see. All of them can be viewed at this link.
As we rode along the low fence separating us from the animal enclosures, we were amazed at how close we were and how large the cats were. Some were more interested in us than others. Anna had chicken legs and other meats to feed them so several gave us quite a show.
Along the way, Anna talked about some of the big cat rescues from homes, shows where they were used as photo cats before they grew too old, and from bankrupt sanctuaries. Every animal has a story.
We were enchanted by Henry the Indian Rhino. At 4,600 pounds and more than 40 years old, he didn’t move around much but was quite the site. Anna showed us one of his horns that he had sawed off by rubbing it against the fence wire. We decided we wouldn’t have wanted that much of a protrusion across our noses either. Sadly, a few weeks after we met him, Henry passed away from old age. He was the world’s oldest male Indian Rhino.
Perhaps our biggest surprise was how much appreciation we gained for hyenas. We decided that our previous impressions of them probably came from their roles as dim-witted antagonists in The Lion King. Far from being cowardly and thieving, they are smart, successful hunters, and bold. They also made the most adorable loving noises when Barry joined us in front of the Spotted Hyenas’ enclosure (Rhett and Scarlett). Scarlett had been attacked by a litter mate and bottle fed from a few days of age by Barry and Christine.
We were impressed by the work of the Foundation and the love and dedication of their staff and volunteers. See the website or Facebook for more information about tours (must be booked in advance) and their March 25, 2023 open house.
Carson Springs accepts donations to help with animal care. The generosity and love of these beautiful animals by Christine and Barry Janks is apparent in the generous enclosures provided for the animals, their staff and volunteers, and the concern they all express for the future of these animals in the wild and through accredited conservation and breeding programs.
A 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, they are licensed by Alachua County, Florida, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the United States Department of Agriculture. They are also accredited by the Zoological Association of America and the Feline Conservation Federation. A conservation and educational facility, they also rescue exotic animals in need.