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.
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.
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.
Rosaire's Riding Academy owner and instructor Ellian Rosaire invokes half a century of equestrian experiences to guide riders of all skill levels through a variety of horseback-riding styles. A stable full of docile and cooperative lesson horses awaits riders, allowing students to trot around on several steeds before finding the one that fits them best or consents to telepathic spirit links. Students learn how to prepare a horse for a ride through grooming, tacking, and rousing pep talks before diving muzzle-first into a variety of riding methods such as English-style or trail-bound Western riding.
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.