Zoo in Ruskin

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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

Staffed by a corps of chimp-loving volunteers working alongside veterinarians, the nonprofit Suncoast Primate Sanctuary provides a safe haven for more than 100 rescued animals. Chimpanzees and monkeys swing freely in their enclosures, living out their days after being moved from other environments, including zoos, sanctuaries, and research centers, or retiring from the film industry as animal actors and studio executives. During public hours, children and adults can wander among the menagerie to feed the monkeys and meet other critters such as orangutans, macaws, lemurs, and alligators.

4600 U.S. 19 Alternate
Palm Harbor,
FL
US

The 105-acre Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium entertains and educates visitors on a 105-acre plot peppered with native wildlife, an educational museum, and three trails snaking through natural habitats. Museum guests learn about the natural world as they commune with captive animals and plants, including native butterflies and a variety of tree frogs. An Audubon aviary houses injured hawks, vultures, and owls, as well as bald eagles preening for guests during breaks from modeling gigs for the quarter and $1 bill. Outside, guests can stroll along nature trails on the center’s grounds to spot all kinds of native plants and wildlife, and the Big Cypress Swamp Boardwalk allows explorers with wheelchairs or strollers to glide along stable paths. Sit back and stare up at the Media Globe dome theater's screen and learn the universe’s best-kept secrets under a breathtaking view of the stars.

3450 Ortiz Ave
Fort Myers,
FL
US

In the middle of Saint Petersburg surrounded by tall buildings and shopping malls lies a 100-year-old oasis of waterfalls and lush plant life. Sunken Gardens, one of the city’s oldest living museums, surrounds visitors with a thriving ecosystem of more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers. Winding paths lead explorers around rivers and ponds filled with fish and turtles. Flamingos walk the banks as passersby spy parrots and admire butterflies gliding from flower to flower. The tranquil gardens also host educational events and daily yoga sessions that help ease stress generated by everyday lives and not being able to touch your left elbow with your left hand.

1825 4th St N
Saint Petersburg,
FL
US

It turns out baby alligators are pretty cute when there's no chance they're going to bite you. That's what people learn when they visit the Alligator Attraction, where they feed the seven-inch creatures from a safe distance by dangling fishing poles off an overhead bridge. Visitors can also come in for a closer interaction by handling the gators, cradling them in their arms and smooching their snouts. These animals are slightly larger?the center's 50 gators are 18 to 48 inches long?but the interaction is still safe because the gators' jaws are securely taped shut.

There are other animals to behold and interact with, too. Visitors feed koi fish from baby bottles, and they line up to greet rescue animals such as Becca the Australian blue-tongued skink and Buddy & Blackbeard, the "bearded dragons." Outside of the small zoo, personnel bring two alligators to house parties, where they may be held and participate in supervised games with the children.

12973 Village Blvd.
Madeira Beach,
FL
US

Whether furry, feathered, scaly, or smooth-skinned, the residents of Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, a 501c3 non-profit, are all family. Founder Kay Rosaire is an eighth-generation animal trainer, and her father, Derrick Rosaire Sr., trained both Tony the Wonder Horse and Gentle Ben, the bear from the show of the same name.

Along with their human relatives, the Rosaires preside over a household of more than a 100 animals, including tigers, lions, ligers, lemurs, tortoises, camels, llamas, and zebras. A petting zoo is available for children. With their nonprofit wildlife sanctuary, the Rosaires hope to educate the public about the importance of habitat preservation and to help foster an appreciation for these animals.

They do this with guided tours and training sessions, which allow visitors to watch the big cats respond to verbal commands from the trainers and receive a tasty treat in return. Training takes place in the cooler months, which ensures the animals don?t overheat and the snow cone treats they are rewarded with stay frozen. Guided tours of the facility are scheduled year-round.

7101 Palmer Blvd
Sarasota,
FL
US