If you are looking for an exotic adventure close to home, consider a day trip to the wildlife sanctuary at Dade City's Wild Things Zoo. Just a 30-minute drive north of Tampa, the lush, 22-acre site is home to dozens of species of animals, including some that have been abandoned or neglected by their previous owners and many species that are endangered or threatened. One of the best things about Dade City's Wild Things is how close visitors can get to the amazing creatures that live there, including Bengal tigers, African lions, Florida panthers and North American black bear. Some people find it hard to see any wild animal confined to a cage but because the setting is so natural and the animals have space to roam, skeptics are often reassured by what they find. (To learn more about how some of the animals came to the zoo, click here. To adopt one of the animals and help pay for its care and feeding, click here.)
The zoo is an outgrowth of Stearns Zoological Rescue & Rehabilitation Center, a non-profit sancturary that provides lifetime care for rescued animals.
Kathy Stearns, the owner of the center, decided to open the site to the public for tours in September 2007. She also opened a zoo-themed gift shop in downtown Dade City that sells jewelry, photographs, t-shirts and educational toys. Many of the photos displayed at the shop are of animals from the zoo. Visitors pick up an old-fashioned trolley at the store, then ride to the center located just north of town, where they embark on a two-hour walking tour of the grounds. If you go, remember to wear comfortable walking shoes as the trails are rough and steep in some places.
The zoo is available for private tours, including tours during feeding time, birthday parties and weddings. Prices are listed below and group discounts are also available. In May, Stearns hosted what she hopes will be an annual fundraiser for the zoo, A Taste of Safari, which offered big donors private tours before other guests arrived. Stay tuned for details on other events and specials at the zoo.
Adult tickets are $22.95. (10 percent discount for those 55 and over.) Children ages two to 12 are $12.95 and children under two years old are free.
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