Last year we were correct in reporting that Kelley was one of the ten largest landowners in the U.S. The only problem was Kelley’s multi-state holdings rank him third on the Land Report 100, not seventh, a fact that was borne out by a subsequent article about The Land Report that ran in The Wall Street Journal. Kelley’s billion-dollar fortune stems from tobacco. In 2001 he sold his cigarette manufacturing company, Commonwealth Brands, maker of Bull Durham, USA Gold,and Malibu.
He has subsequently acquired properties in numerous states, including an estimated 40,000 acres at a cost $58 million in DeSoto County, Florida. The man is no real estate developer, however. His numerous acquisitions have all been in the name of wildlife conservation.
Work crews have been busy constructing fences and establishing veterinary operations on his Florida properties to better care for the many rare species of rhinos, pygmy hippos, gazelles, antelopes, wildebeests, impalas, and wart hogs that Kelley’s employees have been painstakingly breeding and nurturing in the hopes of dispersing them to zoos across the country and around the world.