Roughnecks and hunters have been replaced by herds of antelopes, Cape buffalo and wildebeest at a ranch just south of the Eagle Ford Shale town of Kenedy.

That’s where San Antonio-based Wildlife Partners LLC transformed an oil field worker housing site and hunting ranch off FM 743 into the company’s second exotic game breeding facility. Wildlife Partners bought the 1,750-acre ranch in a $6.5 million deal in November 2016 and has since made more than $1 million in improvements to the property and transformed a former oil field man camp there into a lodge and visitors center.

Click the slideshow to tour the Wildlife Partners facility in Kenedy.

"Seeing a ranch go from being a venue for strictly hunting into a property used for wildlife conservation — one where some species could be returned to their native ranges — is very rewarding," Wildlife Partners co-founder and Chairman Brian Gilroy told the Business Journal.

Wildlife Partners raises money from private investors to buy, breed, house and sell exotic animals. Investors own individual animals, which are housed and bred on company property. Offspring are sold with a pre-determined percentage of the profits going to the investor. The original Wildlife Partners ranch near the Hill Country town of Mountain Home houses 750 animals, while the new South Texas ranch is home to 1,500 and has room to hold many more, Gilroy said.

"We have a $500,000 feed bill between the two ranches, but the new one has more grass and browse vegetation," Gilroy said. "The feed bill is lower here. There is much more natural foliage. The animals love it."

Over the two past years, the company reported selling more than 5,000 animals, and it is projected to have have more than $10 million in sales this year. Gilroy said the company has no debt other than land, while recent federal tax reforms are expected to be beneficial for investors. In addition to lower tax rates, one key change means that holding on to a baby animal for one year before selling it allows the sale to be considered a capital gain rather than ordinary income.

"There is a 100 percent tax deduction for every animal we buy in the first year without limits — provided that the animal is used for breeding," Gilroy said.

Although hunting of exotic animals is big business in Texas, Gilroy said most of Wildlife Partners’ sales are to ranchers who want to collect and breed endangered species. In many cases, Gilroy said the company buys the offspring of the animals sold to those collectors.

"We take responsibility for the health of the animal, the capture of the animal and the release of the animal," Gilroy said. "We’ve completely eliminated the risk for the customer on the buying side."

Wildlife Partners recently sold a 10 percent stake in the company as part of a $1.5 million deal with a private investor. The company also added former Boeing executive Joseph Gullion as president and CEO.

Gilroy now also serves on the San Antonio Zoo’s board of directors, in addition to having professional contacts with other zoos in the U.S.

"Getting involved with the zoo community has allowed us to get access to species that are not found in Texas," Gilroy said, though he does not do business with the local zoo.

The company’s new ranch is home to the endangered kulan of Central Asia, Grevy’s zebra and the Arabian oryx, among other species. It is also the only ranch in Texas to have sichuan takin — a threatened species of mountain goat from China and Tibet. Later this year, Gilroy hopes to import a herd of southern white rhinoceros from the African nation of Namibia that will be bred and sold to Texas ranchers.

With a background in the oil industry, collecting and breeding exotic game started as a hobby for Gilroy, and it quickly became a full-time and profitable business. Incorporated in February 2016, Wildlife Partners is expected to hire an additional 10 to 15 people by the end of the year.

"I don’t think that I’ll ever be in the oil business again," Gilroy said. "I don’t need to."

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