You’re carefully navigating your Jeep through northern Mozambique’s Gorongosa, in search of the elusive African lion. You stop to listen and in the distance, you hear the roar of the beast. Kicking up dust as you drive, you follow the sound until you spot the lion’s pride. There, in the center, stretched out in all his glory to a full 8 feet in length, and rolling his head in the way only the king of the beasts can do, is the magnificent lion you have come to see. He spots your Jeep and roars again …
Sound fun? Now imagine going on your very own safari—an easy-enough proposition on your vacation to to Miami and South Florida. Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach, America’s first cageless drive-through zoo, is a 320-acre wildlife preserve and a leader in animal conservation. It provides a variety of expansive habitats in which endangered and threatened species can live and reproduce. Visitors get to drive through, in the comfort of a vehicle, and at their own pace, to spy some of the world’s most exotic animals. Jambo! “Welcome” to Lion Country Safari.
Divided into seven sections, each replicating a distinct habitat of the Earth, Lion Country Safari lets you decide what part of “the world” to visit on your excursion—no passport required. Want to see elephants lumbering past your car? Head straight for the Serengeti Plains, where these floppy-eared pachyderms share space with wildebeest, gazelles and more. The grasslands of Las Pampas are home to giant land tortoises, llama, deer, and the Brazilian tapir—called a “living fossil,” and most closely related to both the rhino and the horse. The South Florida park also entices families with its Safari orld Amusement Park, offering boat rides on “The Jungle Queen,” a petting zoo, water park, amusement rides, mini-golf and a giraffe feeding area to enjoy. Pack your walking shoes and sunscreen; it’s time for an animal adventure!
While animals roam free at Lion County Safari, 1,100 tropical birds fly free at Jungle Island. The brainstorm of an Austrian feed store owner who found he could easily train birds, Jungle Island is South Florida’s mecca for beautiful and exotic birds, and “the best trained bird show in the world.” It’s also home to highly entertaining number primates including Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Pie, female fraternal twin Indonesian orangutans born in 2003. Follow a winding trail through lush tropical foliage, native coral rock and shady tree hammocks to discover the beautiful Miami landscape enjoyed by Jungle Island’s feathery and furry residents. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the adjacent Japanese garden built by the founder of Ricoh, who fell in love with Miami in the 1950s and created a stellar park of harmony and beauty. Admission is complimentary.
Does the thought of going to a place “where the humans are caged and the monkeys run wild,” sound too intriguing to pass up? Then head straight for Monkey Jungle, a 30-acre reserve in south Dade County where 400 primates have the run of the place. Monkey Jungle’s design was an innovation when the park opened in 1933 and served as the catalyst behind many of today’s zoological park designs. Over 30 species inhabit Monkey Jungle including orangutans, gibbons, spider monkeys, and colobus. You might just find yourself wanting to monkey around a bit, after visiting these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat. At the very least, you’ll likely be motivated to cheer on Monkey Jungle in its bid to help the primate world.
If you prefer a watery environment, Miami Seaquarium has many dolphins, sea lions, manatees and whales who agree. Key Biscayne,, is the spectacular setting for Miami Seaquarium, a family favorite since 1955. Bottlenose dolphins thrill adults and children alike with their acrobatic show. Dare to be in the Splash Zone if you don’t mind getting wet. Thrillseekers will naturally gravitate toward Crocodile Flats and the Shark Presentation. One Miami-based diver has the most unusual job in the city: slowly swimming through the “Main Reed” tank, hand-feeding countless tropical fish, moray eels and loggerhead turtles.
Looking for more biological diversity? You’ll find it when you visit Miami Metro Zoo. This famous wildlife haven boasts over 1,300 different animals in a spacious, 740-acre setting. You may not be able to count the Italian honeybees ( between 10,000 and 15,000), but you can definitely count the times you laugh while feeding the giraffes their favorite treats. The giraffe feeding station has become one of the more popular areas of the zoo. These guys will really stick their necks out for a treat.
When your family is ready for a sunny adventure into the animal kingdom, step out on your own South Florida wildlife tour.