Public gets a free look at Rye Road Giraffes in Manatee County.
Crystal Landkas-Coronas stood atop a ladder, holding a bag of carrots, and did not think it strange to have two giraffes — Melman and Twiggs — crowding around her.
The younger one, 7-year-old Melman, is her favorite, even though he tends to slobber.
“His personality is just so sweet,” Landkas-Coronas said. “Melman will let me sit here and hang out with him.
He licks you like crazy.”
Such is life for a woman who has grown up in her family’s circus.
The 10 acres on Rye Road, The Rye Road Giraffes, is owned by her parents, Stevie and Serge Landkas, and are home to domestic and exotic animals alike. There are giraffes, camels, horses, goats, exotic cows, zebras, a kangaroo and even 10 poodles.
Her father also owns Coronas of Hollywood, which produces Circus Hollywood. Landkas-Coronas manages The Rye Road Giraffes and Circus Hollywood.
When the family hits the road, they take all the animals with them. All either have a role in the circus or the petting zoo or are simply there for people to see and enjoy.
But the public’s access has been limited to road trips. The Coronas’ property never has been open to the public, until now.
Through May 31, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, The Rye Road Giraffes will be open for a drive-thru look at the animals. Landkas-Coronas said the idea is to provide local families with a safe way to get out during the coronavirus pandemic. There is no cost, though donations are being accepted to help pay for care of the animals.
Landkas-Coronas said the family often has received requests to see the animals — particularly from neighbors who can see the giraffe’s necks high above the fences — but requests escalated after the COVID-19 outbreak began. People drove up in golf carts and stood atop them for a peek over the fences, and neighbors delivered hand-written notes to the mailbox hoping for a private tour.
The family decided a COVID-19 drive-thru event could be done and spent about a month adjusting the property to accommodate lines of vehicles.
What they didn’t expect, however, was hundreds of eager families to arrive before gates opened for the first time at 11 a.m. May 10. By 10:55 a.m., there were 50 cars stacked in the family’s large front lawn in an effort to keep cars from backing up on Rye Road.
By 11:45 a.m., the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office came and temporarily shut the drive-thru down, so traffic could calm. Vehicles had been backed up from the property at 211 Rye Road all the way south to Waterline Road, more than a mile away.
Landkas-Coronas said some people were angry they had to be turned away — some guests had traveled from North Port and Tampa — but most were understanding. She had thought the flyer she posted on her personal Facebook page would result in a handful of families from the immediate neighborhoods — Del Tierra and Rye Wildnerness — coming for a look. No one in her family anticipated hundreds of vehicles to show up on the first day. The Rye Road Giraffes didn’t even have a Facebook page until the night before the event.
Landkas-Coronas said the second day, May 11, went much more smoothly, and traffic was more staggered.
She said she is hopeful traffic will be steady over the coming weekends, as well. She said they hope families who were not able to come before can still enjoy seeing the giraffes.
“We’re here to entertain,” she said.
The Landkas family — known as members of the Coronas circus — has lived at the property with their animals for 36 years.
“Rye Road was a small dirt road before with just a few houses; State Road 64 was a little two-lane road and dark,” said Serge Landkas-Coronas Jr., who moved to the property with his parents, Stevie and Serge, at age 7. “There was nothing out here.”
The elder Serge Landkas was part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ Circus World in Orlando in the late 1970s, until moving to the East County area. He began producing his own circus in 1977.
Now members of his family are performers. For example, Crystal Landkas-Coronas, 36, has mastered 50 hula hoops at a time and runs the dog show with her 10 poodles. Serge’s other daughter, Nicole Landkas, 39, performs on the trapeze.
The father has produced Shriner’s circus events in Tampa and Fort Myers over the years. The circus also performs at county and state fairs nationwide, as well as charity fundraisers.
Crystal Landkas-Coronas said the family’s touring schedule has been canceled through June. Donations from the tours will help feed and care for the animals.
“It’s a scary time for anybody in our type of industry,” she said. “I feel like we’ll be the last to go back to normalcy.”