A Noah’s Ark in the Sunshine State

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 2005

Brad Kelley—a college dropout whose discount cigarette empire made him a billionaire—brews his own bourbon, never uses e-mail, sometimes wears a kilt, and owns more land than there are acres in the whole state of Rhode Island. Astonishingly, none of these are the most eccentric thing about him. That honor undoubtedly goes to Rum Creek Ranch, Kelley’s 40,000-acre spread in southwest Florida where he breeds endangered animals. Kelley’s foray into animal conservation started with rare strains of cattle. That led to the acquisition, over 2004 and 2005, of some 40,000 acres in DeSoto County, for a reported $50 million. Kelley now propagates many exotic species on that land, including tapirs, anoas (a three-foot-tall Indonesian buffalo), hippos, rhinos, bongos (an African mountain antelope featuring psychedelic white-yellow stripes and huge tapered horns), bentang (wild cattle), and others. Many of these animals had been reduced to just a handful of breeding pairs; Kelley’s goal is to work with zoos and conservation groups to reintroduce them in sustainable numbers within their native habitats.