Photographer R.H. Carter captured this zebra at the B. Bryan Preserve on the Mendocino Coast.

If you’re tooling along the Mendocino Coast and spy a zebra in the distance, don’t be alarmed.
You’re not, as they politely say of the insane, “simply seeing things.”
A growing herd of rare African animals – 65 at last count – is finding refuge at Judy and Frank Mello’s Point Arena preserve. And if the idea of looking out your window and spotting a roan antelope in the redwoods intrigues you, consider booking their carriage house for a weekend of Safari-style entertainment.
The couple foster care for critically endanged zebras, and African antelopes on 100 acres. The pair live in an 1880s Victorian and rent out the guest house, making the B. Bryan Preserve one of the more unique overnight finds on the North Coast outside of Santa Rosa’s Safari West.
Guests are treated to a special tour out to the animal’s individual pastures during feeding time. But if you don’t have the time or money to invest in an overnight, the Mellos also give 1 1/2 hour tours by reservation ($20 per adult and $10 for children 10 and under.)
The Mellos packed up – antelopes and all – and moved from Mississippi to the Mendocino Coast five years ago.
“We brought 11 of them, which is all we had at the time, on a trailer – four trips back and forth,” Judy tells me. “”It took us four or five months to get them all here.”
Their collection of kudu, sable and roan antelopes, has grown both by acquisition and good old Mother Nature. Come in spring and you might be lucky enough to see some babies.
Three years ago the Mellos added Hartmann’s Mountain Zebras to the menagerie. According to Judy, there are fewer than 4,000 of them in the world. They also have added the critically endangered Grevy zebras, of which only 2,000 to 2,500 remain in the wild in Ethiopia and northern Kenya.
Their unusual hobby of breeding and conserving rare African hoof stock began back in 1998, when Frank returned from a trip to West Texas, where he had come in contact with sable antelopes. He was so enchanted he declared that he wanted to raise them too. Like most collectors once bitten, they didn’t stop there. They hope to soon add to their little safari Rothschild Giraffe, Springbok Antelope and Black Wildebeest.
The preserve is properly permitted through the California Department of Fish and Game, the USDA and the American Zoological Association, of which the Mellos are members.
“After we started getting into it we realized people are concerned about pandas because they’re cute and whales because they’re an incomparable part of our area. But other species of animals are going away and nobody cares,” Judy laments. “After we started researching we realized there is a need for people like us.”
The Mellos both take in animals that need a home and provide animals to zoos. They just sent a roan antelope off the Buffalo, N.Y.
“Everybody wants to see babies in a zoo environment but it’s hard to maintain the offspring because of limited space,” says Judy, who works in sales for the Sara Lee Corp. Husband Frank is retired as vice president of research and development, also for Sara Lee. If you’re in to easy-pack sandwiches, you can thank Frank for bringing to consumers the Hillshire Farm lunch meat in a tub.
Frank has built two new cottages so they can accommodate more guests, and thus expand their mission of outreach and education. They’ve used as much salvage as possible to keep the cottages “green,” from vintage light fixtures and old stained glass to reclaimed redwood flooring and an antique staircase. The shower doors allegedly came from a mobster’s house in Chicago.
The carriage house is more like an apartment, decorated with an eclectic mix of antiques and Frank’s vintage rock posters. No breakfast brought to you. But you’re welcome to make your own omelette in your own kitchen with eggs from the farm and produce from the preserve’s garden.
While it doesn’t quite offer ocean views, the B. Bryan Preserve is close enough that you can hear the waves crashing and seals barking. And remember, the best views are the little bit of Africa roaming the back reaches of Point Arena.
Overnight stays are $185 to $210 with a two-night minimum. (707) 882-2297 or e-mail to reserve a tour.