Tag along with these wildlife experts for animal adventures in the Tampa Bay area:
• Volunteer with nonprofit Tampa Bay Watch, which protects and restores the marine environment of the estuary. (727-867-8166, www.tampabaywatch.org).
• Combine a day on the beach with a free guided nature tour at Fort DeSoto Park (not offered in July or August), which TripAdvisor ranked as the No. 1 beach in America in 2009, and in 2005 Dr. Beach named it the nation's No. 1 beach. (727-582-2267, www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_Ft_Desoto.htm)
• Other county and city parks also offer guided wildlife tours for little or no cost. Learn about coastal wildlife and Native American heritage at Weedon Island or go on a guided hike every Saturday (727-453-6500, www.weedonislandpreserve.org). See wetland wildlife at Brooker Creek Preserve (727-453-6800, www.pinellascounty.org/Events/Events_newsrel.htm#guidedhikes) and amphibians and reptiles at the 245-acre Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg (727-893-7326, www.stpete.org/boyd). Admission costs $3 for adults and $1.50 for children (3 to 15). Children under 3 are free.
• Get closer to the animals of the African plain on the Serengeti Safari at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay or feed and care for giraffes and antelopes on a Keeper for a Day Tour (888-800-5447, www.buschgardens.com).
• Zoo school at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo offers year-round education programs including preschool, camps, classes, sleepovers and field trips. Teen and adult programs are offered as well. (813-935-8552, www.lowryparkzoo.com)