A Unique Animal Sanctuary in Ponte Vedra Beach

Written and Photographed by Maggie FitzRoy

Beemer, a 20-year old white male horse, and Angie, a 6-year old miniature horse, are inseparable pals who share the same pen. The old donkey who lives in an adjacent pen, named Eeyore, has a crush on Angie. Lulu, a white cockatoo, loudly greets visitors with a cheery “I love you” when they pass by. And “Turtle,” a 125-plus pound African tortoise, follows caretaker Steve Dampier around like a puppy. Turtle is also extremely friendly with visitors, following them around too.

“He could live up to 100 years old or so, easy. Could be 40 right now,” Dampier says, guessing at Turtle’s age, because nobody knows for sure. All they know is that Turtle is a healthy and very social animal that has lived at Fantasy Farms for many years.

“You’re my turtle,” Dampier says as Turtle stands at his feet and looks up at him.

“He’s my buddy,” Dampier says with a smile. “You can pet him. He’s a good animal.”

About 120 animals live at Fantasy Farms, a 2-acre animal sanctuary tucked away off Roscoe Boulevard in Ponte Vedra Beach. It is an exotic place, home to many creatures from around the world, including lemurs, macaws, roosters, peacocks, wallabies, a genet (small animal that resembles a wild cat) and a capuchin monkey named Rocky.

For years it was a privately owned secret, open only to invited guests. Now it is a nonprofit 501-C-3 organization, open to the public for reservation tours, and as a facility that can be rented for special events, including weddings, corporate outings and parties.

The mission is education, regarding the care of animals and birds, President Frank Barker says. Most are rescues, formerly pets of people who couldn’t adequately care for them.

But it’s not just an animal sanctuary, with creatures housed in pens, cages and wandering the grounds, as the peacocks do. It is also a car museum, featuring one-of-a-kind automobiles, including a Rolls Royce once owned by fried chicken magnate Colonel Sanders, actor Don Johnson’s Porsche from Miami Vice and a 1954 Foxtrot MG. Fantasy Farms founder Louie Williams, a successful interior designer, travels the country looking for unique artifacts for his clients, and collects cars that capture his fancy, operations manager Ramon Jimenez says.

Williams founded Fantasy Farms about 30 years ago to raise ostriches, says Vice President of Marketing Scott Nelowet. That didn’t work out as he’d hoped, and he was going to close down, until he met a man who asked him to adopt his macaws. That was the beginning of his animal rescue endeavors, and becoming certified as an animal sanctuary. With the animals and cars surrounded by lush vegetation, it’s a magical oasis for visitors.

“It’s a really one of a kind place in Northeast Florida,” Barker says.

Fantasy Farms is located at 194 South Roscoe Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach.

Tours, by advance reservation only, are offered free.