Established in 1982, the White Oak Conservation Center is a small, privately owned and privately funded conservation center in Florida dedicated to the preservation of genetically viable endangered species. The 600 acre wildlife preserve is situated in the center of the White Oak Plantation, a wildlife preserve that spans over 7,000 acres. The property and the Conservation Center are owned by the family of the late Howard Gilman, heir to the Gilman Paper Company.
The Conservation Center is one of the world's most respected centers for breeding endangered species, and is a renowned research and training facility. The mission of the White Oak Conservation Center is to maintain a biologically diverse population of endangered species in scientifically managed captive populations, and to provide opportunities for research, training, reintroduction of animals into the wild, and further involvement in conservation programs.
Located in northern Florida and partly in Southern Georgia, the region's climate is similar to the tropical savannahs and rain forests that are home to many of the world's endangered species. The staff of the conservation center and of the Gilman International Conservation Foundation work together to determine whether a specific species is appropriate for the White Oak Conservation Center. In order to e considered, a species must meet specific criteria that will make use of the unique capabilities of the White Oak Conservation Center. The animals in residence at the White Oak Conservation Center must be from a species in need of a conservation program and a suitable innovative program to preserve their genetic heritage must be possible.
Among the significant achievements of the White Oak Conservation Center are the births of ten white rhinos, an animal that had been nearing extinction in the 1970s because of illegal poaching. Thanks to conservation efforts like those at White Oak, the population of white rhinos in has increased from about 100 individuals to over 12,000.
Other animals at the White Oak Conservation Center are Komodo dragons, which are considered a "vulnerable'' population and the Florida panther, which is considered one of the world's most endangered animals with less than 100 adult animals believed to be in the wild. White Oak Conservation Center has been involved in research and maintaining of the captive population of Florida panthers. The Conservation Center has successfully reintroduced 12 Florida panthers into the wild after rehabilitation.
White Oak is also one of only two conservation centers in the country that are involved in saving the Mississippi sandhill crane. The wild population of sandhill cranes is estimated to be less than 150. Since 1993, the White Oak Conservation Center has been involved with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Audubon Society in breeding and releasing Mississippi sandhill cranes into the wild.
The White Oak Conservation Center is not open to the general public, but some private tours may be arranged. For information and details on visiting the Conservation Center, call 904-225-3200.