5 Star Story: Southland Safari

Published: Jul. 11, 2023 at 10:54 PM CDT
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CLARKSBURG, Tenn. (WMC) - If you’re dreaming of adventure or just looking for an escape from the “big” city, we have the perfect daytrip for you in this 5 Star Story!

Just up Interstate 40, about an hour and a half away, you’ll find a safari adventure like no other in Tennessee.

Welcome to Southland Safari! It’s located about halfway between Memphis and Nashville in Clarksburg, Tennessee, an oasis amongst lush farm fields that feels like another world.

We had the opportunity to feed the four giraffes and interact with them onsite, as well as hang out with the two-toed sloths in their habitat, and catch some rays with a mob of kangaroos as they relax in their yard.

And all those close encounters happened before we even started the actual tour.

Southland Safari in Clarksburg, Tennessee, is a short trip away to see some incredible animals!
Southland Safari in Clarksburg, Tennessee, is a short trip away to see some incredible animals!(Action News 5)

As the tour guide extraordinaire and all-around jack-of-all-trades for Southland Safari chortled: “You seen the movie “We Bought A Zoo,” well we didn’t buy one. We actually built one.”

Michael Avery has worked for about 20 years with Tosha and Chris Gurley, who started the whole thing.

“This was Mr. Chris’ dream to open this place and to be around animals and work with them every day,” Avery said. “And we took his dream and brought a little bit of Africa here to West Tennessee for everybody.”

According to Tosha Gurley, she and her husband started small.

“That’s what we started with was 5 buffalo, and now we have over 700 animals, 56 different species. So each day we’re growing.”

We opted for a two-hour guided Jeep tour across the park’s more than 125 acres. There were no lions or tigers or bears, but there were plenty of other animals to greet us for treats on our trek, like the ostriches who made a mess while dipping into the cups of food we held. Good thing we didn’t drive our own car or we would have a had a mess to clean up!

We also got the once in a lifetime experience of feeding and grooming Benny, an Indian rhino--one of only about 125 in the U.S.

“Very few people in the entire world knows what a rhino’s horn feels like or what his sweet lip feels like and how soft it is. Most people think they’re super rough but they have these sweet little spots where it’s nice and soft. And that’s something they can experience their self,” Avery said, while pointing out how much he loved the scrubbing and food our crew provided for the Benny that could eventually weigh as much as 4,900 pounds.

While at Southland Safari we also saw a zeal of zebras, white and brown buffaloes, Indian muntjac, albino and dama wallabies, llamas and alpacas, gazelles, wildebeest, water buffalo, emus, otters, cranes and so many other breeds of animals.

With all there is to see one day might not be enough, so you’re welcome to stay overnight in one of several nearby cabins with state of the art amenities inside.

“So, it’s really just an experience for families to get away, connect with one another, and enjoy each other’s time,” Tosha said.

And according to Avery, “We’re one of three facilities in the entire country where you can do this, stay the night surrounded by animals. We’re the only one in the entire state of Tennessee where you can come and spend the night surrounded by animals.”

But most important to the folks who run and care for the animals at Southland Safari is their mission to promote environmental education, conservation, exploration and adventure!

“We’re gonna take you out and explain to you what you’re looking at, where these animals are from, fun facts about them and actually have a few light-hearted jokes along the way, as well,” Avery promised and certainly delivered during our tour.

Tosha also hopes the trip to Southland Safari is memorable.

“I hope they leave with a good memory that they can talk about for years to come.”

“We hope that you learn to love animals the way that we love animals,” Avery added.

Southland Safari is a daytrip that takes you worlds away! Another reason we love calling the Mid-South home.

By the way, Southland Safari offers several tour options including truck tours on the weekend that can sit about 20 people. There are also daily VIP-encounter jeep tours like the one our crew took.

But, you must make a reservation first, whether it’s a tour or an overnight stay.

You can find all the details about Southland Safari on Facebook, Instagram by clicking here.

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