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'This is the Ritz Carlton for critters': Rancher breeds and sells exotic animals in south Texas

Driving through the Wildlife Partners ranch in Pettus, you feel like you're in Jurassic Park.

PETTUS, Texas — Hidden in the middle of south Texas is a little piece of Africa.

Driving through the 1,700-acre Wildlife Partners ranch in Pettus, you feel like you're in Jurassic Park.

CEO Brian Gilroy points out herds of wildebeests, bongo, nyala and dama gazelle. He's usually in the office doing paperwork, but he makes it out to the ranch, he watches his animals from a distance and finds peace in the silence.

"This is my passion," Gilroy said. "I enjoy wildlife and I like the outdoors."

Gilroy found success in the oil and gas industry, but in 2016, he started a new journey. He opened Wildlife Partners, a wildlife conservation company.

"There are about 2,000 animals on this ranch that cover about 70 different species,” Gilroy said. “These animals are living a very natural life.”

Gilroy breeds and sells the animals to ranchers across Texas. The rancher then gets a tax break for giving them a safe place to thrive. 

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The animals range in price, going from about $1,000 to $200,000 each. The most expensive are the giraffe and Cape buffalo—the most dangerous animal on Gilroy's ranch. 

"Black Death is what they call them in Africa," Gilroy said. "They can be very aggressive."

Gilroy has the right man on the job to manage the herd. Kevin Robertson is an African wildlife consultant; each day, the veterinarian drives all over the ranch to check on animals. 

"I'm a professional gate-opener," Robertson joked. "There are 25 gates I have to go through each day, but it's a labor of love."

He monitors animals' health, changes their diets and keeps track of new babies.

"I've been around these animals all my life and I just love them," Robertson said. "They're my pets!"

Gilroy said, historically, this industry has been seen in a bad light. Some view it as canned hunting. While this does happen in some places, he said those aren't the type of ranchers they work with.

“As far as our business goes, we are strictly selling to landowners who love breeding these animals and love looking at them," Gilroy said.

He is first to admit money was the motivation for his career change, but he's also a conservationist.

A lot of the animals on his ranch, like the addax and Grevy's zebra, are critically endangered. He said there are just a few dozen addaxes left in the wild and less than 3,000 Grevy's zebras.

It's not the circle of life you expect in Africa. In this capacity, these animals are able to live on Texas soil without fear of natural predators.

"This is the Ritz Carlton for critters," Gilroy said.  

As their populations grow, they can be enjoyed for years to come.

"There's an emotional appeal to doing something that's worthwhile, preserving animals that are in very short supply," Gilroy said.

The greatest reward for him, Gilroy says, is sharing this journey with his children. His three young kids share his passion and plan to pursue careers working with animals. 

"I like the idea of leaving a legacy for my kids, as something they can be proud of," Gilroy said.  

Wildlife Partners operates three ranches in Texas. To learn more, click here