Twiggs and Melman, better known as the “Rye Road Giraffes”, along with their human, Crystal Landkas-Coronas, welcomed me to their farm located out East in Manatee County where they quietly reside on ten privately owned acres.
This lovely family-owned habitat has never been opened to the public — until now. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Having known about the giraffes for quite sometime, I admit I bike over to see them almost daily and snap a photo or two. Apparently, I’m not alone! I’ll get to that in a moment, as well.
My curiosity grew each time I saw these beautiful creatures and I decided I needed to know more. I finally contacted the owners. Honestly, the kid in me could hardly contain her excitement when I was invited to take a private tour!
An Amazing Sanctuary
I learned so much about this remarkable sanctuary, which has been a haven for both domestic and exotic animals for over 35 years! The Landkas-Coronas family has a rich six-generation history in circus performing and animal training. They all have homes on the property they share with goats, sheep, camels, llamas, zebras, tortoises, a kangaroo, long-haired cows, miniature horses and the beloved giraffes. Most of their animals are rescues that have found a safe haven here. Unlike their human counterparts, they do not perform. They are strictly used for therapy and education and are well cared for.
Crystal shared an endearing story from her childhood about her dad, Serge Landkas-Coronas, the patriarch of the family. He has always had an affinity for the kids who come to see his animals. In 1993 while in Iowa with the animals, Serge learned of a gravely sick five-year-old little boy who was awaiting a heart transplant. He was too ill to go to see the animals and enjoy the activities. The boy’s family was concerned that the surgery would not be successful. Serge was so deeply moved that he, along with the boy’s family and the hospital, wanted to give the child a celebration. So he brought the animals right to the boy’s grandfather’s backyard!
It is this example of kindness that makes Crystal so incredibly proud of her family — particularly her father who is her mentor and role model.
2020 Changes to Normal Schedule
Usually they head to select cities for part of the year where they make appearances at state fairs and hospitals. They support various institutions, including the Shriners Hospitals through their fundraising efforts. Because of the pandemic and the way our world has dramatically changed, travelling with the animals has become next to impossible. The family was faced with the challenge of reimagining creative possibilities to sustain the farm.
Since everything had been on lockdown, they were inundated with countless requests from the local community to see the giraffes and other animals. In an effort to offer a much-needed respite for the kids and parents alike, much to the delight of the locals, they opened to the public. Able to maintain social distancing via a stay in your car drive-through experience, a very grateful community came in droves!
They are now in the midst of planning an expansion. At this time they do allow visitors on weekends via reservations only. A holiday experience is in the works! There is a nominal fee to help cover the costs of the renovation and the care of the animals.
And as for that little boy? He recently found Crystal through Facebook. His transplant surgery was successful and he is now grown with a family of his own — eternally grateful to her family for that very special day.
Visiting this lovely animal sanctuary is a must. This is such a cool, up close and personal experience you won’t soon forget. Go see them and tell Twiggs and Melman I sent you.
For more information and reservations please contact them via Facebook.
Photos by Sheri Nadelman