Walk on the Wild Side of Gainesville

When you think of Gainesville, alligators usually come to mind. But if you go a little bit beyond the swamp, you’ll find Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation – a 274-acre wildlife refuge less than 20 minutes from UF’s campus. From howling hyenas to loving lemurs, Carson Springs is home to more than 70 different animals from all over the world.  

And Barry Janks knows every single one by name.


Barry Janks and Gator – a Bengal Tiger

Barry and his wife Christine run the refuge and live right on the property. Sometimes, they even have some of the animals stay in their house with them. While we might not recommend letting a wild lemur live in your home, for Barry and Christine Janks, the animals are like family to them. The couple has spent years caring for and interacting with these animals on a daily basis.

We took a trip to Carson Springs and were lucky enough to get a tour with Barry himself. The best part was getting to see him in action. Barry will walk up to each animal and greet every one by name, while also explaining to guests how these wild animals from around the world came to live in North Florida.

The animals all live in natural grass enclosures with plenty of space to play and run. During our visit, Barry explained how some of the animals came to the preserve after being mistreated or kept in small cages. The Janks try and recreate the animal’s’ natural habitat as much as possible to give them room to roam. The enclosures for tigers Sunflower and Gator exceed USDA cage regulations.

Walking through the conservation is an experience in itself. It’s not everyday you can hear the sounds of the animal kingdom just feet away from you – let alone here in Gainesville. And when one tiger or leopard starts howling – everyone has something to say.


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Henry the Rhino and his favorite shady spot

With so many different animals to see at Carson Springs, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But for us, there’s one experience you can’t miss: feeding the 4,600-pound rhino, Henry.

After luring the huge rhino from his personal pool with some carrots, Barry brought Henry to the edge of a fence for us to meet and so we could give him an afternoon treat. All you have to do is rub Henry’s snout and he’ll open his mouth wide which is your cue to toss in a handful of sweet potatoes – or more carrots.

Being so close to an animal that weighs over two-tons can be intimidating. But after buttering him up with food, Henry will just leave his mouth open, waiting for more snacks. Turns out, Henry is quite the hungry, hungry rhino.

The 35-year-old Indian rhino is so popular he has his own fan club on Facebook.

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Junebug making friends and shaking hands.

Henry wasn’t the only new friend we made at Carson Springs. We also got the chance to meet and spend time with Junebug, a red ruffed lemur who is anything but shy. In fact, Junebug is so friendly that visitors can hang out with him inside his living space. But don’t be fooled – Junebug may be small, but he’ll leap right on your shoulder for a big lemur hug.

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Junebug has great taste in accessories.

Like any other worldly lemur, Junebug enjoys the finer things in life (wallets, sunglasses, etc.). So be careful – he’ll try to grab them when you’re not looking, or at least see how your wallet tastes.

Carson Springs was an amazing adventure. We were there for nearly two hours and still didn’t get to see everything – so you know we’ll be going back.

If you want to learn more and schedule a trip for you and your friends, check out Carson Springs online and schedule a tour. Tours require at least six people which makes them perfect for clubs, classrooms, and businesses.

And if you’re just looking for a way to brighten up your day, check out the Carson Springs Facebook page to see some of their furry friends in action.