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Effingham Magazine

It’s All Happening at the Ranch

It’s All Happening at the Ranch
Guyton Attraction Features Domestic and Exotic Animals

Story by Stephen Prudhomme
Photography by Leidy Lester


When he was 14 years old and living in a rural area of Brazil, Gilvan Valim would saddle his horse and travel three hours to visit his uncle just to see his collection of birds. With every visit, there was always hope that maybe this time his uncle would give him a bird of his own.

Valim’s love of birds has not abated over the years, but his locale has changed. He is now in Guyton, where he and his wife, Shannon, have opened Hope Ranch, a 30-acre exotic and bird sanctuary. Hope Ranch is home to 2,500 birds (with more than 500 on display) and more than 200 mammals including monkeys, bison, cows, goats and large cats.

Due to zoning restrictions of a zoo in Effingham County, Hope Ranch is legally referred to as an agricultural support area. It took the couple a little more than two years to acquire the necessary federal, state and county permitting but finally, on August 1, they were allowed a soft opening.

“We’re offering guided educational tours as we try to get our feet wet and figure out how to bring the public through our facility,” the couple said. “We’ll add handicapped-accessible restrooms and are shooting for a fall grand opening.” Hope Ranch is governed by USDA as well as Georgia Game & Wildlife.

A lynx named Lisa proved to be the impetus for opening Hope Ranch. Amidst the growth of their farm, the Valims found Lisa was available for adoption. Since lynx are not allowed in Georgia due to licensing regulations, Lisa was to live in South Carolina at an upcoming zoo. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the South Carolina zoo did not open, and Lisa had no choice but to go home to Hope Ranch in Guyton.

“With heartfelt determination, we welcomed Lisa into her new home in Georgia and she began to flourish! It was then we realized Hope Ranch was destined to become more than just a haven for our farm animals. That prompted us to embark on a journey toward establishing our ranch that we now know and love.”

Founded on a Love of Birds

Birds are an important part of Hope Ranch, and their presence can be traced to a boy in Brazil willing to go the distance on a horse or bike and an unexpected gift in the road.

Fascinated by his uncle’s birds as a youngster, Gilvan developed a growing love for them while hoping he could take one home. As it turns out, he took more than one home after a relative picked up a box of birds that had fallen off a truck that he was following. The birds were given to Gilvan as a gift and he was tasked with caring for them. Little did he know those birds would start a lifetime passion that led to the establishment of Hope Ranch.

Having many species of birds, particularly pheasants and peacocks, inspired the idea to obtain different types of animals. Over the next several years, Gilvan and Shannon acquired a number of exotic and domestic animals as they built their collection of furry and feathered friends. The Valims said many species have been obtained from other breeders, auctions, and rescue situations.

Among the exotic animals are two patas monkeys that went bananas, so to speak, on Memorial Day of 2022. They left the ranch and were on the loose for several days, causing a scare in Effingham County before they were discovered in a neighbor’s yard several miles away.

“It stirred quite a commotion on the unsuitability of wild monkeys in South Georgia,” said Shannon, describing the two primates, Mel and Jerry, as mischievous. “The escape was hard to miss due to the wide broadcast of the event. In these trying times, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to Effingham County and our incredible local community for their unwavering dedication and tireless efforts, spanning countless hours, to ensure the safe return of Mel and Jerry back home.”

The Logistics of Running a Rescue Ranch

Opening a ranch such as theirs, the Valims said, requires a mixture of dedication, expertise, and thorough planning to ensure the well-being and welfare of the animals. It involves comprehensive knowledge of species-specific care, habitat design, safety protocols, veterinary support and more. Additionally, they had to obtain the necessary permits and licenses and follow the guidelines for animal care. “Needless to say, we have our hands full,” Shannon said.

While there are hundreds of animals, there’s basically one individual setting up the enclosures, cages and fencing—Gilvan. “He does it all,” said Shannon, who started working for Gilvan’s construction company in 2012. “He is a master craftsman.”

Educating children on animals in an area replicating their natural habitat and showing them the proper respect and care is what’s most important to the Guyton couple.

Given the emphasis on agricultural education in the area, the Valims said their ranch provides continuing education on farm animals while introducing youngsters to their wild brethren.

“We are so excited,” the Valims said. “We want to bring kids here, promote healthy care and enrichment of all our animals.”

A Group Effort

Handling a number of jobs at Hope Ranch is Kaylee Haro. She met the couple through their shared love of animals. “I have loved animals my entire life and was a lead veterinary technician and licensed wildlife rehabber in South Carolina prior to working with Hope Ranch,” Haro said. “Gilvan and Shannon used the vet clinic where I worked. They offered me a job to oversee the animals’ health, dietary needs, and enrichment program, working closely with our vet, Dr. Kayce Croy, at Faulkville Animal Hospital.”

Dr. Croy took on a big challenge with Hope Ranch when others did not even know where to begin to help. She jumped right in. Dr. Croy is their attending veterinarian for their domesticated as well as exotic animals.

Haro said, “little did I know with this opportunity I would be gaining more than a job but a family.” That family includes the animals, which remain Haro’s passion. It isn’t just making sure they aren’t sick, she said, but also ensuring all their needs are met. That includes diet, habitat, making toys/puzzles for them, and keeping their minds sound by keeping them engaged.

Another passion is educating visitors, especially children. “I love seeing kid's faces when they learn something new or get to hold or pet animals they've never seen before,” Haro said.

Feedback on the zoo has been positive since it opened for tours, according to Haro. Many visitors described it as an amazing experience and have inquired about annual passes. Others said they didn’t realize they had so many animals and can’t wait to return. A young girl recently posed the best question. “She was asking when are we going to get a unicorn,” said Haro with a laugh.

As the search for a unicorn continues, the Valims, unlike many of their animals, are not sitting on their haunches, the facility is continuing to grow everyday!

“We are currently building a reptile area, gift shop, huge playground, rock climbing wall, and a splash pad too! We eventually want to share a nighttime experience as many animals are nocturnal,” said Haro.

Troy Allen, chairman of the Effingham County Chamber Board, says they are excited to hear about this new venture in the county, noting a zoo in the local community will be a great tool for learning among young people.

“They will be able to experience exotic animals in a somewhat natural environment and learn from the zookeepers the history of these animals along with the education on the proper techniques to care for them,” Allen said. “This should be an exciting opportunity to bring the community together and also bring in more tourism to our area. Effingham County has much to share with others and by having a local zoo, we hope to be able to showcase more of our county. We welcome them to the county.”

Hope Ranch is located at 𝟏𝟑𝟖𝟏 𝐆𝐞𝐨𝐫𝐠𝐞 𝐇𝐮𝐫𝐬𝐭 𝐃𝐫. 𝐢𝐧 𝐆𝐮𝐲𝐭𝐨𝐧 𝟑𝟏𝟑𝟏𝟐.
It’s open daily from 𝟏𝟎 𝐚.𝐦. 𝐭𝐨 𝟓 𝐩.𝐦..
𝐀𝐝𝐦𝐢𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐢𝐬 $𝟏𝟖 𝐩𝐞𝐫 𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐨𝐧 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐟𝐫𝐞𝐞 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐥𝐝𝐫𝐞𝐧 𝟐 & 𝐮𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐫