FLORIDA ANIMALS, BOTH NATIVE AND EXOTIC
See them at zoos, preserves and refuges throughout the Sunshine State.
Zoos and Wildlife Sanctuaries in Florida
By Emily Nipps
One great way to take advantage of Florida’s beautiful weather is by spending a day at one of the state’s many globally recognized and accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries.
Zoos in Florida are truly interactive experiences, filled with fun encounters with native species, such as manatees and alligators, as well as not-native animals such as giraffes, elephants, penguins and zebras.
Most have wildlife conservation components that are both educational and effective in protecting threatened and endangered animals around the world, and all offer shows, field trips visits and other hands-on events.
Look for posted feeding times and daily educational programs to get more out of your visit, and be sure to stop by the various touch pools filled with stingrays, small sharks and other water life.
Some zoos offer its guests guided kayak tours that bring you as close as possible to native birds, plants and fish without having to venture into the wild on your own. And many have petting zoos, perfect for little ones who like to put their hands on fuzzy goats, ponies, pigs and other tame and kid-friendly animals.
One hot days, several Florida zoos have water misters throughout the grounds for both animals and humans, and some have cool-down zones that include splash pools and sprinkler water parks.
Or, visit one of the air-conditioned indoor exhibits for reptiles, insects and underwater creatures. Some zoos, such as Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, have dark, cave-like tunnels guests can enter and watch manatees floating through their habitat and eating lettuce in underwater viewing areas.
Others, such as the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, have little trains that take you on safari-style tours through the zoo, giving you a chance to both rest and get new and interesting vantage points to view the animals.
If you’re looking for more interaction with the beasts, several Florida zoos have animal encounters that include feeding giraffes, riding camels, petting rhinos, walking among wallabies and playing with lemurs. Some have free-flying aviaries with bird seed dispensaries available for feedings and you’ll often find handlers strolling through the zoo with various snakes, monkeys, iguanas and other creatures to pet.
The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society, for instance, gets you close to the animals along lush, shaded paths. Add to your visit with the Sloth Experience or the only up-close Koala Experience in North America.
While zoos focus on animals, education and conservation awareness, many of Florida’s zoos also add some fun attractions, rides, games and other features to add to the fun. Take a spin on a carousel, experience the thrill of zip-lining through native trees and plants, let the kids climb on jungle gyms and hop on carnival-style rides while you’re in between zoo exhibits.
At Loxahatchee’s Lion Country Safari in Palm Beach County, you can take a break from gazing at the wildlife by playing a round of mini golf, panning for gems and stones or finding your way through a maze.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has a 30-minute river cruise in which you’re bound to spot a dolphin or manatee. If you love wild animals and like learning new things about global conservation and wildlife wonders, plan on spending a day at the zoo as part of your Florida vacation itinerary.
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