Tampa’s Wild Side

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Updated 01.01.2016

Did you know that Tampa, Florida, has a wild side? No, I’m not talking about an exotic nightlife adventure for baby boomers. Instead, manatees and big cats are the stars of this wildlife experience for travelers visiting Tampa.

Manatee at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo
Meet a manatee in Tampa, Florida

Peaceful Giants at Stratz Jr. Manatee Hospital

First, let’s go to the hospital. But, this one’s not for humans, manatees are the patients. When these water dwelling giants are hurt in the Florida wild, usually because of a run-in with a boat propeller, many of them are sent to David A. Stratz Jr. Manatee Hospital at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. You can pay a bedside visit at the three zoo pools that act as hospital beds for the injured manatees. At 2 p.m. each day, receive a medical update from a zookeeper during the Manatee Encounters show held at the Manatee Amphitheater. Of course, you’ll also learn about how these gentle creatures live in the wild, why they are endangered and what you can do to help.

While you’re at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, visit the Florida boardwalk to see the many animals who call Tampa, Florida, home. Stroking a ray’s smooth skin in the touch tank of the Stingray Bay exhibit reminded me of one of my favorite experiences — swimming with the rays on a cruise excursion in Moorea. With over 2,000 animals housed on 56 acres, you could spend the entire day at the zoo enjoying a wide range of interactive exhibits. Bring the grandkids for a fun, multi-generational experience.

Bengal Tiger at Big Cat Resuce
Bengal Tiger at Big Cat Rescue

Big cats retire in style at Big Cat Rescue

What happens to the lions and tigers that perform in circuses and other entertainment acts when they become too old to perform? The lucky ones retire to an enclosure at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, FloridaThe sanctuary houses over 100 exotic cats, many of them rescued from abuse, abandonment, inappropriate pet situations or slaughter in the fur industry.

On a typical day tour, guides accompany visitors on a one-and-a-half hour walk through the wooded property to observe the cats. Along the way you’ll learn about the different exotic cat varieties, their behaviors and the sad circumstances that brought them to Big Cat Rescue. Photo tours are offered as well as special tours for children under 10. To view the exotic cats in their prime, book one of the night tours that occur once a month on the Friday of the full moon. Flashlights illuminate the way on a guided walk through the sanctuary as the nocturnal cats greet you with roars, screeches and caterwauling. Now that’s a wild night in Tampa, Florida.

Are you traveling on a Florida spring break with your grandkids? Bond over a multi-generational adventure at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo or Big Cat Rescue.

Disclosure: Tampa Bay and Company provided this travel experience but the opinions are my own.

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