This weekend, I was lucky enough to visit the incredible White Oak Conservation in North Florida located on the banks of the St. Mary’s River, where my sister (I hate using “in law”) and her boyfriend work. They are so passionate about their job, and their mission in life is to conserve and protect birds, big cats, and other animals. At White Oak, they’re trying to presevere the future by protecting endangered species. I was able to see animals I would never have had the chance to photograph, and during tours, visitors are allowed to touch rhinos and have unprecedented access, while never invading the animal’s space.

Black and white photo of a tiger.
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

I’m happy to share with you the photos from my time at White Oak, braving the rain and mud. Below you will see pics of cheetahs, rhinos, tigers, and cassowaries. There are so many different types of animals; I wish I could have taken photos of all of them. “White Oak is well-known in the conservation and zoo communities for their rhinoceros, cheetah, antelope, and okapi (a rare giraffe relative) programs, and for their support of conservation in Africa, Asia, and the United States,” according to their homepage. 

My sister works with the cheetahs, and she has actually hand reared some of them. When she approaches the cheetahs, you can see how much they love her. I swear, they think of her as their mother. It’s incredible how much space the cheetahs have to run, and they are so elegant when they walk. As you can see in one of the photos, they have a dog, an Anatolian Shepherd, mixed in with the cheetahs. The dog is there to help calm the cheetahs down, and it’s a tactic widely employed.

Space is what makes White Oak so special. It’s hard to imagine another facility where animals have the room to wadner and feel somewhat like they’re in their natural habitat. White Oak sits on 7,400 acres, and that’s why I’m able to shoot photographs of such amazing animals like those you see above. Rhinos are so important to conserve because of the popularity of their horn, which is valued as a type of medicine and aphrodisiac by many. According to The Guardian, over 1,000 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2013.

Finally, I’m grouping the tigers and the cassowaries together because I’m not sure what animal scares me more. Most people are aware that tigers can be deadly predators, but I’m not sure how many people know how terrifying a cassowary can be. According to White Oak, “Cassowaries are found in Northern Australia, New Guinea, Ceram and Aru Island … They can weigh up to 165 lbs. and grow to be 5 ft tall at top of head.” Cassowaries are pretty fast, and they can run up to 30 m.p.h., but they might not have much of a reason to run, because they’re one of the toughest fighters in the animal kingdom. 

Here is why cassowaries are so scary to humans, according to White Oak’s website:

“A kick is capable of delivering a crushing blow, none more so than that delivered by a cassowary, a bird to which more human fatalities have been attributed than to any other. The inner of the three toes of each of the cassowary’s feet bears a long, dagger-like claw. Cassowaries are among the shortest – tempered of birds and will go on the defensive with very little provocation. The adult’s coarse plumage serves well in damp jungle undergrowth.” 

This is what I admire most about White Oak and conservationism in general: It doesn’t matter how dangerous an animal is or what potential threat they can cause to a human; conservationism is about protecting endangered species. Because from what I can tell, humans are still the most dangerous species, and we wreck more homes for animals than we’ll ever know. Your comments are always appreciated.

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