We recently heard about a local ecotourism zoo in Dade City called Wild Things, where you can get up close and personal with animals normally only admired from afar! The zoo (in conjunction with Stearns Zoological Rescue & Rehab Center, Inc) is located on 22 acres of land in the heart of Paso County and prides itself on rescuing animals and providing a natural botanical landscape.
When you visit the Wild Things Zoo, you can choose to either go on a tram ride of the grounds or a walking tour where you can see up to 200 animals!
If you want to get more of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can even chose to do some personal animal encounters where, accompanied by a trainer, you can sit with some of the animals and hold or touch them. You could pick from a bunch of different experiences to do after the tour, so we took full advantage of our day, and chose to do 3 encounters!
The main reason we decided to go to the Wild Things Zoo, was to do the baby white tiger cub encounter as neither of us had ever got that close to a tiger cub before. Also, once the cubs reach 40 lbs, they don’t allow encounters anymore. The cub was already at 25 lbs at 2 months old, so it wont be long until he is too big. We also chose a coyote experience as neither of us had even seen one in the wild yet, and then we chose to feed black bears, as we thought interacting with them would be really unique.
There are another number of encounters you can chose throughout the year, including swimming with the tiger!
We were told from the beginning that photos are not permitted at any time, but that they do offer a fair priced photo package where a professional photographer takes photos of the encounters that were available to download later.
Our visit started with the tram tour we chose, our driver was so friendly and knowledgeable it made for a fun tour! I really wish they let you take photos on this tour, as I have never seen some of these animals so close before!
They had quite a few species of monkeys, including Cornelius, a rhesus macaques who was captured in St. Petersburg, putting an end to a four-year search where he avoided capture as he made his way around Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
The monkey’s origins are unknown, but speculation has been that he traveled from the Silver Springs area near Ocala, where a group of rhesus macaques had made its home for decades.
We were able to get as close as 3 feet away from the tiger and lion enclosures! We witnessed our tour guide interact with them through the fence while giving us their backgrounds. The tigers even rubbed up against the fence purring at us!
We were able to get off the tram to feed the buffalo they had on the tour! I got to feed the mother Jessica carrots, and I can say its something we didn’t expect but it was such a cute experience!
We also saw kangaroos, parrots, miniature ponies, foxes, raccoon, lemurs, panthers, ferrets, zebras, emus, and so many more!
Then it was time to have our baby tiger encounter! We were able to pose for a photo with him first (his name was Remington) we were given our instructions then sat down to interact.
The trainer entertained him with toys and milk while we were able to pet him from the neck down only, for safety reasons. He was so soft and fluffy with such bright blue eyes!
She gave us a little bit of history about him, and even showed us how his paws are webbed to enable him to swim efficiently, a little fact I had never heard of.
I have to say it was such a wonderful experience that I, for one, will never forget!
Next up was our coyote interaction!
Growing up in England we didn’t have coyotes, the closest we had to them would probably be wild foxes. So I found this experience fun! He really did look like a dog but with a much longer nose and coarser hair.
He seemed to really love Simon’s laces on his sneakers, and even when the trainer would try deter him he would lean toward them pretending not to care and then at the last minute start nibbling at them again, so cute!
Our last encounter was with the black bears, these you cannot go in to the enclosure, its illegal unless you’re trained. I’m assuming this may have something to do with the fact they are in the wild so close to our homes, that it may desensitize people to them, and the threat they can pose in the wild.
We were able to feed them marshmallows on sticks through the fence, which they loved! The male would stand tall, and the female would remain seated but was far more vocal in expressing her love for marshmallows!
After our experiences we were given the link to the site to download our pictures from home. I am not really a fan of zoos personally but I loved this place as there was such a sense of family here, and all the animals are either rescued or born there. I was concerned what the animals might be treated like but they looked so healthy and happy, and sometimes you felt like you were watching them in the wild!
I would definitely recommend the photo package as it’s such a wonderful experience you don’t want to forget! They are also getting bigger all the time and even plan to build an aerial ride going across the tiger enclosure! Hmmm I MAY just give that part a miss!
Next time you are wanting to plan a local day out, with an experience to remember I suggest you book a day at Wild Things, I hope to go back myself soon!
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