Sarasota is a beautiful city on the Gulf Coast of Florida that has a lot of love for animals. That love is easy to see in the names of many places around town, such as Bee Ridge, Bird Key, and Osprey Avenue. For visitors to the Sarasota area, there are plenty of opportunities to see the abundant local wildlife, as well as preserves and shelters that house more exotic creatures from all around the world.
1. Sarasota Jungle Gardens
A unique take on the zoo experience, the Jungle Gardens preserves the native wildlife and plants of Florida from before the days of cities and statehood. Established in 1939, the Jungle Gardens are now home to over 150 varieties of animal life, specializing in the majestic birds of prey and the many kinds of lizards that have called Florida home for thousands of years. There are daily shows that let visitors get up close and personal with some of these fascinating creatures. An impressive flock of Caribbean flamingos lives at the Jungle Gardens, and a 24-hour webcam watches over them, giving bird enthusiasts anytime access to these amazing animals.
2. Big Cat Habitat
Outside of zoos, big cats like lions, tigers and panthers sometimes find themselves in unfit situations, like being illegal pets, improperly cared for in circuses or without homes following appearances in TV shows and movies. The Big Cat Habitat gives these and other large animals a safe, caring environment where they can thrive. There are tours at the sanctuary all week where visitors can see these gorgeous animals. Exotic birds, chimps, bears and other non-cats also live there.
3. Mote Marine Laboratory
Combining a love for the abundant sea life around the Sarasota coast with a passion for learning, the Mote Marine Lab and its attached aquarium is the best place in the area to see the wide variety of creatures living in the waters of the Gulf. The aquarium has some of the largest tanks in the country, housing emblematic Florida marine life like dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles, as well as many large and small sharks and creatures from reef environments. There are even fossils of prehistoric sea life.
4. Birding in Sarasota
Those who prefer to visit wildlife in their natural environments will find some of the best bird-watching in multiple locations throughout Sarasota.
- The Celery Fields, several miles inland, is a 400-acre site where the Sarasota Audubon has recorded as many as 216 unique species of bird. Many rare birds have been known to visit the area in the winter.
- Myakka River State Park is a vast preserve outside of town where everything from colorful cranes to majestic bald eagles have been known to fly.
- Bird Island has its name for a reason. It’s easy to see many varieties of bird in the island’s wooded areas and out in the bay where boating is popular.
Animal lovers have an abundance of options throughout the Sarasota area for catching sight of captivating creatures. Whether you’re looking for a structured educational experience or just a casual trip into one of the region’s gorgeous nature preserves, the wild wonders of Sarasota are waiting.