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 only way to get into Gatorland is to walk straight into an alligator's toothy maw. The giant mouth provides entrance to 110 acres of marshy wildlife preserve––home to a vast ecosystem populated by thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and birds, including rare wading birds and four rare white alligators. Among these, more than 130 gators splash and lounge in the park’s breeding marsh, which visitors can view safely from a three-story observation tower or while sitting on the shoulders of Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Yet one of the biggest thrills of Gatorland is the reptile's raw power. Visitors can see this on full display during the Gator Jumparoo show, where alligators leap four to five feet out of the water to snag food directly from a trainer’s hands, or during the Gator Wrestlin' Show, where a handler demonstrates survival skills. True thrill-seekers can even dangle over the breeding marsh while riding the 65-foot-tall Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. And to experience the unsettling sensation of stumbling upon a swamp filled with alligators at night, the Night Shine takes participants deep into gator territory armed with only a flashlight and a few hot dogs.
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.
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.
Public Safety Organization's Fall Festival honors the changing seasons with hayrides and a healthy dose of mud as the festival kicks off with a nearly 3-mile morning mud run. Afterward, families enjoy themselves until sundown, stopping by the petting zoo to bond with barnyard animals, and noshing on autumnal food and drinks.