Country Portrait: Smoky Mountain Safari
Smoky Mountain Safari
By Deborah Garrison Lowery | Photos By Deborah Garrison Lowery
Whether it’s a zebra or Patrick, his favorite goat, loving strokes and tender talk reveal Ron Nease’s passion for animals at his Briarwood Safari Ranch near East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. Here, with the help of exotic animal experts at nearby University of Tennessee’s vet school and at the Knoxville Zoo, Nease tends year-round to 400 animals representing 60 species and five continents. From April to December, he shares his passion with families, giggling schoolchildren and the simply curious who can drive through in their cars or enjoy a tractor-pulled, 4-mile trek through the wooded property, where they’re swarmed by emus, llamas, watusi and elk looking for a snack from feed buckets.
“We’re just a reverse-zoo,” explains Nease. “In most zoos, the animals are in cages. Here, the animals are free and the people are the ones locked up!”
Nease originally bought the property in 1988 for deer hunting. Soon, he traded a car for five elk and fenced in 100-plus acres. When he noticed people watching the animals from their cars on the roadside, he thought maybe people would pay to drive through. So, he decided to turn the property into a wildlife reserve that would provide some additional income. Since opening for business in 2006, the ranch has become much more than Nease dreamed; it is a classroom,
a photographer’s paradise and a sanctuary for wild animals and the man who
Video and More
Want to see a quick video tour or get more information? Find out more about Briarwood Safari at www.briarwoodsafari.com.