Local + Wild – Leisure :: SRQ Magazine article by Britt Mattie

For those days when you’d rather be around animals than people, we’ve got a long list of sanctuaries, nature reserves and conservation foundations, all within a 30-minute drive. Sneak in for an exciting afternoon with exotic creatures you don’t see every day, while learning about their wild habits and the conservation efforts being made locally, nationally and even internationally to preserve their precious species.

Myakka Elephant Ranch, location disclosed when booking, 941-702-0220, myakkaelephantranch.org, @myakkaelephantranch.

Myakka Elephant Ranch

See majestic creatures five times the size of you, up close and personal. It is not well known to many residents, but the public can book unique tours at Myakka Elephant Ranch and non-profit conservation center.You will learn all about African and Asian elephants in a one-hour educational seminar. You can also book a ‘Rise and Shine Encounter’ to touch, feed and love everyone’s favorite gentle giant with family photo options. And, if you’re not afraid to get your shoes wet, consider the ‘Encounter with the Elephant Spa’ for the special occasion to bathe the animals. Water is very important to an elephant’s skin, so it should take a full bath at least once a day.

Sea lion reserve

If you have a thing for animals that spend the majority of their time in water, Myakka is also home to the Sarasota Sea Lion Preserve Conservation and Care Center, Slippery When Wet, a sea ​​lion rescue open to the public for educational presentations and swimming interactions with 13 resident sea lions. The reserve is home to a mix of Californian and South African species that have been rescued and rehabilitated after injuries in the wild. Packages range from Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and “Trainer for a Day”. Depending on how close you are and how ready you are to get wet, experiences range from land interactions and painting with the sea lions, to cuddling and kissing with them, to playing games (with balls, Frisbees and hoops) with them. You can spend one-on-one time with the sea lions and a trainer. You can even dress up and dive into the water with them, asking them to perform tricks.

Sarasota Sea Lion Preserve, 36302 Singletary Rd., Myakka City, 941-219-3583, sarasotasealionpreserve.com.

Photo courtesy of Bearadise Ranch Bear Preserve, 6908 245th St. East, Myakka City, 941-322-2462, bearadise-ranch.com, @bearadiseranch.

Bearadise Ranch

And in the same vicinity of the town of Myakka, get up close to another large mammal at Bearadise Ranch Bear Preservea wildlife park and learning center to promote awareness of habitat preservation and conservation for Florida bear species. Visits are by reservation only and operations are seasonal. Educational and entertaining presentations are part of the tour, along with plenty of photo opportunities for nature lovers or big bear enthusiasts.

Lemur Conservation Foundation

Where hilarious ape-like creatures hang and howl, six species of lemurs are protected. the the forest habitats span nearly 10 acres each and are surrounded by a 13-foot fence, allowing many resident lemurs to roam freely. These free-roaming primates offer scientists, students and volunteers unique research opportunities in this private reserve.

Lemur Conservation Foundation, 42500 73rd Ave. East, Myakka City, 941-322-8494, @lemur.conservation.foundation

Mixed Species Experiences

Photo courtesy of Sarasota Jungle Gardens, 3701 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota, 941-355-5305, sarasotajunglegardens.com, @sarasotajunglegardens.

Let’s not forget our longstanding institutions in the heart of Sarasota where you can see and visit a plethora of different animal species. It’s not all flamingos to Sarasota Jungle Gardens– Wander through the vast jungle-like grounds to pet and discover an entire kingdom of species in one place. Its 10 acres of “Old Florida” fun boast over 200 native and exotic animals (many of which have been rescued). Visitors can expect to see trees filled with colorful and tropical birds, snakes, alligators, iguanas, turtles and lemurs.

For some winged creatures, head to Save our seabirds. The non-profit organization rescues, rehabilitates and releases sick and injured wild birds found in the area. You can stroll the three-acre site’s “bird walk” to encounter pelicans, owls, vultures, herons, and other once-wild birds. Be prepared for a steady soundtrack of squawks, croaks and chirps as you learn about each species’ traits and characteristics, and what you can do to protect them from harm in the wild. Meanwhile, his Wild Bird Learning Center is home to more than 120 other animals that have been injured and cared for, but unable to return to the wild.

Save Our Seabirds, 1708 Ken Thompson Parkway Sarasota, 941-388-3010, saveurseabirds.org.

Photo courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy., Sarasota, 941-388-4441, mote.org, @motemarinelab.

AT Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, there’s no shortage of sea creatures to ooh and ahh as they climax and wonder about you as much as you about them from the glass. You’ll find over 100 species of marine life, including sharks, manatees, playful otters, turtles, moray eels, fascinating jellyfish, the majestic stingrays in the Stingray Touch pool, and plenty of colorful fish. This Sarasota must-see is a laboratory, so visitors can observe ocean research in progress. Special presentations offer more information about the underwater and coastal residents of Mote.

Big Cat Habitat Gulf Coast Sanctuary is home to over 150 exotic and domestic animals that need a safe and permanent home. where some 150 captive-born exotic animals have found forever homes. See giant creatures like bears, monkeys and, of course, big cats. From lions, tigers and cougars to leopards and ligers, these massive predators roam three indoor/outdoor housing complexes with exercise habitats and swimming pools. Visitors can also drop the little ones off at the Petting Zoo to meet sweeter, gentler animals like goats, llamas and chickens.

Photo courtesy of Big Cat Habitat Gulf Coast Sanctuary, 7101 Palmer Blvd., Sarasota, 941-371-6377, bigcathabitat.org, @bigcathabitat.

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