For families with young children looking for a safe, entertaining and (shhhh…don’t tell the kids) educational experience that the whole family loves during the pandemic, ZooTampa at Lowry Park has been a lifeline over the past few months.
Now that more of us are emerging from quarantine and heading back out to have fun and explore, ZooTampa continues to be an ideal destination. Whether you’re one of the 1 million annual visitors who have already been there a few times this year or are excited for a new experience, here are five new or revamped adventures that will make each visit feel like the first time.
Go eye to eye with a shoebill
You may have seen birds before, but trust us, you’ve never seen anything like this 5-foot denizen of the African swamp, with its fearsome 7-inch bill that resembles a Dutch clog with razor-sharp edges and a hook on its end—essential when swooping down on baby crocodiles for dinner.
Though they look like tough guys (see if you’re brave enough to lock gazes), shoebill storks are classified as vulnerable, with only 3,300 to 3,500 mature shoebills still living in the wild. Not only is ZooTampa home to three of only four in the United States, but in 2009, ZooTampa became the first wildlife institution in North America to hatch one of these rare birds outside of their native range.
You can glimpse these incredible animals in the Africa realm, but if you really want to get up close and personal, sign up for an unforgettable breakfast event on Saturday, April 17 at the shoebill stork aviary. From 8-9:30 a.m., you can enjoy breakfast overlooking the new shoebill stork habitat, participate in a talk about the birds and baobab trees, and ask all your burning shoebill questions to the team that cares for them every day.
Are they bears? Cats? Mops with tails as long as their bodies? If you’re wandering the Asian realm of the zoo and spot these unusual creatures lounging in a tree, you’ve come to the habitat of Sully, Melati and baby Kartika—ZooTampa’s adored binturong family.
Also known as Asian bearcats, these animals use their padded paws and long claws to expertly grasp branches and explore treetops. They can even turn their ankles 180 degrees to help them climb down trees head first. Listed as vulnerable, binturongs are currently at risk due to habitat destruction, poaching and the fur and pet trade.
Just don’t be surprised if you smell binturongs before you see them: One of their unique traits is their scent, which has been described as similar to buttered popcorn or corn chips. (Oh, and no, they’re not bears or cats. They belong to the family of mammals called viverrids.)
Want to scope out what might be the most fun future job ever? Bring your little ones to Expedition Wild Africa, where you will get to play the role of research interns visiting Africa’s Habari Preserve. In this newly designed safari experience, you’ll hop on board brand-new safari trucks to visit virtual base camps and research stations. Only the bravest need apply—you’ll get up close to some of the savanna’s most wild predators, spot the world’s largest land mammal and even escape a close encounter with a crash of White Rhinos! (Opening late Spring.)
Speakers of the Wild
Enjoy animals and want to learn more about them from experts? For $20 if you’re a member and $40 if you’re not, you’ll enjoy an animal mingle, a cocktail, appetizers, presentation by experts and a moderated Q&A session.
Florida Panther Conservation | Thursday, May 20, 6-7:30 p.m.
Conservation photographer and National Geographic Explorer Carlton Ward Jr. and Mark Cunningham, a state wildlife veterinarian with Florida Wildlife Commission, will present an in-depth look into the global conservation of Florida’s most beloved and endangered species, the Florida panther.
Painted Dog & Elephant Conservation | Thursday, Aug. 19, 6-7:30 p.m.
Hear about the plight of two of Africa’s most beloved and endangered species, the African elephant and the African painted dog. Top experts in the field, including ZooTampa’s Chief Zoological Officer Dr. Larry Killmar and Greg Rasmussen, founder and former director of the Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) project in Zimbabwe, will talk about ongoing conservation efforts.
Fitness in the Wild
Mix up your workout routine with one of these awesome fitness options. Not only do you get to work up a sweat on the beautiful zoo grounds, but you’ll also get your pre-workout inspiration from an animal encounter! Though you need to be a zoo member to buy a ticket, you can purchase one for a friend.
Yoga with Bella Prana | Saturday, May 22, 8:30-10 a.m., ages 18 and up.
Pose like your favorite animal in a yoga class led by an instructor from Bella Prana Yoga & Meditation. Yogis of all levels can enjoy this wild event.
Zumba | Saturday, July 24, 8:30-10 a.m., ages 18 and up.
Enjoy a mix of low and high-intensity moves while dancing to upbeat music. This total body workout focuses on cardio, muscle conditioning, balancing and flexibility. All fitness levels are welcome.
Stroller Strides® with FIT4MOM | Saturday, Sept. 25, 8:30-10 a.m., ages 18 and up and children in strollers.
This total-body condition workout is designed to meet you where you are mentally and physically. All fitness levels welcome. While this class is geared towards mothers and children in strollers, adults without children may join as well.
“We want our guests to walk away inspired and empowered by experiences that show the uniqueness of the animal world and join us on our mission to save these amazing species. We are dedicated to continuing to find ways for families to get wild safely to ensure that members of our community have a place to experience the much-needed mental health benefits and comfort that being outdoors and connecting with nature provides.” – Joe Couceiro, CEO of ZooTampa
Check out the NEW app
Get the most out of every visit to the Zoo by using our NEW mobile app! Available in both the App Store and Google Play, this free app features a GPS-enabled map, walking directions, fun animal facts, an itinerary builder, and so much more! Do you know what the best part is? By using the GPS-enabled map, you eliminate the need to use a paper one. Together, we can cut down on paper usage and preserve the world we share!
Meet Manny T the manatee
Manny T. is a cool, laid back sea cow who was one of the manatees rescued and rehabilitated at the Zoo‘s David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center. He loved the care he received so much that he decided to stay and help educate our guests. When you meet him, you might notice that he has a boat strike scar! He uses it as a conversation starter to share the importance of boater safety on the Florida waterways. So come out and say hi!
He even appeared on the April 2021 cover of Tampa Bay Parenting to make his debut!
*Photos provided by ZooTampa