Zoo in Bartow

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The nonprofit Lowry Park Zoo has more than 1,500 animals living on nearly 60 acres of land. One way the Zoo maintains its animal habitats and conservation programs is to hold the annual ZooBoo fundraiser each fall, welcoming families for a slew of Halloween-themed attractions. The event’s spooky theme is evident upon arrival, as the Zoo’s walkways are filled with costumed youngsters. Haunted houses await to elicit giggles, gasps, or shrieks, and parents can easily determine which haunts are appropriate for their brood by consulting the Zoo's skull rating, which designates the scary level of each event, ranging from "all ages" to "scary to the extreme". Admission also includes free unlimited spins on rides such as the Batty Bumper Boats or Scary-Go-Round Carousel. After visiting with some of the Zoo's creepiest residents at the Flying Fox Bat House and Creepy Crawlers Lane, kids and adults can take in the dazzling light displays at the Little Beasties Bungalow or take a break and fill up on seasonal snacks at one of several concessions areas.

1101 W Sligh Ave
Tampa,
FL
US

Safari Wilderness Ranch's exotic wetland animals freely roam 260 acres of grassy plains, girded by an 850-square-mile watershed. Accredited by the Zoological Association of America and licensed by the USDA, the ranch is an agritourism project dedicated to teaching about endangered species through hands-on safaris. Wandering zebra and watusi-cattle herds coexist harmoniously with waterbuck and lost cable guys as explorers ride by on trucks, horse-drawn carts, and camels. An outdoor aviary flutters with nearly 100 colorful, playful budgie parakeets who will munch millet seeds from the palm of a hand, and a lemur habitat allows guests to feed the ring-tailed primates grapes.

10850 Moore Rd
Lakeland,
FL
US

Though the creatures on display at Dinosaur World don’t need much space to roam, plenty of care has been taken to furnish them a comfortable habitat. They peer imposingly from the hillsides of Kentucky, crane their necks up through native trees, and stomp through prairie fields. Although a life-size mammoth or T. rex might be hard to miss, little visitors might still jump with delight at noticing a baby dino suddenly appear from behind a bush. Giant brachiosaurus necks arch high above treetops, while toothy meat-eaters and spiny stegosauruses roam the world below. The fiberglass, steel, and concrete models reach up to 80 feet in length, and are built according to the latest scientific discoveries about what dinosaurs looked like and what styles were trendy in the Mesozoic era.

The first Dinosaur World location was a former alligator farm in Florida and five years later another one was opened in Kentucky. As Swedish-born Christer Svensson began to fill it with statues, he consulted with experts around the world to not only create realistic reptiles but to surround them with fun, educational activities. Kids can sift through sand to find shark’s teeth, gastropod shells, and trilobites in a fossil dig, get to know some lizards a little better on the playground, or examine ancient eggs and raptor claws in the museum.

5145 Harvey Tew Rd
Plant City,
FL
US

The husband and wife owners of Giraffe Ranch wake up each morning to the squawks, chirps, and growls of rhinoceroses, hippos, ostriches, and a menagerie of other exotic animals. After feeding their giraffes, they tend to the cattle and collect eggs from their free-range chickens that cluck across their 47-acre combination of a working organic farm and a wildlife preserve accredited by the Zoological Association of America. Encompassing four ecosystems, the preserve sprawls under 400-year-old oak trees and across native orchards into wetlands filled with nesting sandhill cranes. With the aid of their son, the owners lead tours through habitats for endangered or otherwise extinct African and South American animals, walking past pens of African crested porcupines, guinea pigs, fossa; as well as lemurs that guests can feed by hand or T-shirt cannon. Their tours never follow the same path, instead changing to skirt around grazing goats or to meet a brood of newly hatched baby ostriches.

Not content to simply lead guests on relaxing strolls, guides also load passengers into four-wheel-drive safari trucks—custom built by the owner after vehicles used in Africa—or onto the backs of camels for extended preserve tours that showcase larger game such as Indian rhinoceroses, pygmy hippopotamuses, llamas, and antelopes. Guides also steer tours toward feeding times, encouraging passengers to pass leaves to the preserve's namesake giraffes from the truck. An onsite shop boasts shelves of glass art, plush lemurs and giraffes, and T-shirts—many designed by the owner's wife—alongside handcrafted African decor. Shop staffers also proffer organic fertilizer, organic free-range eggs, and grass-fed beef harvested on the farm.

38650 Mickler Rd
Dade City,
FL
US

Dade City's Wild Things puts visitors within 3 feet of most of its menagerie, which includes more than 200 animals on exhibit. Botanical gardens blanket the zoo's 22-acre expanse, providing a scenic backdrop for creatures such as a tiger, lion, lemur, bear, and baboon. Separated from most animals by a few feet, a chain-link fence, and the ability to knit socks out of their own fur, opposable-thumbed guests can explore the animal offerings by walking tour or tram ride. Dade City's Wild Things further upholds its aim to connect people with animals by offering opportunities for close cross-species interaction, such as feeding buffalo in grazing fields on the Jungle Safari Ride, swimming with a tiger, or reserving an animal encounter, which provides a chance for visitors to interact one-on-one with a choice of critters including a zebra foal, gator hatchling, and African pygmy-goat kid.

37245 Meridian Ave
Dade City,
FL
US