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.
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.
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.
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.
In December of 2005, an orphaned bottlenose dolphin was rescued after being caught in a crab trap. She was brought to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's rehabilitation center, where the team worked constantly to bring the dolphin, now named Winter, back to health. Soon, for the first time in her adult life, Winter swam like a true dolphin. It was a story of courage and heart worthy of Hollywood?in fact, Winter starred as herself in 2011's Dolphin Tale, a cinematic recreation of her life that reached #1 at the box office.
Today, Winter lives at Clearwater Marine Aquarium with her bottlenose friend Hope, who starred with her in Dolphin Tale 2. Here, visitors can watch them swim and play, along with many more animals who got a second chance thanks to the aquarium's rehabilitation team. Visitors can meet these inspirational animals, witness the team in action, and support the effort to save marine animals.
Founder Carole Baskin never dreamt she'd one day oversee a 55-acre sanctuary inhabited by some of Earth's largest cats. In 1992, she and her late husband were at an exotic-animal auction seeking out llamas for their farm. A man had a 6-month-old bobcat that he could no longer care for, and the pair decided to give it a place to call home. They then traveled to a bobcat breeder for another playmate, but upon seeing the horrible conditions the animals were kept in, they bought all 56 kittens. They rehabilitated them back to health, and gave them permanent homes on their then-40-acre site. Soon, word of her knack for nurturing spread beyond the Tampa area, and callers began donating abandoned or orphaned cats. Her mission to save these animals also reached the ears and hearts of many celebrities, including contributors Harrison Ford and Bo Derek.
After 20 years of hard work and learning, Carole is still caring for abused and abandoned big cats at her rescue site, accommodating more than 100 medium and large creatures from bengal tigers and black leopards to lynx and lions. Her staff of volunteers helps care for the animals and leads groups in tours that educate visitors on the plight of these animals both in the wild and in captivity.