Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is home to Lucifer, the oldest captive hippopotamus in the Americas. Born at the San Diego Zoo on January 26, 1960, he dabbled in show biz in his early years with the Ivan Tors Animal Actors Troupe which eventually brought him to Homosassa Springs, where he has lived since 1964. Lu, as he is now known, was so immensely popular that soon after the state of Florida purchased the property, the governor granted him special Florida citizenship in 1991 in order to allow him to stay in the state park even though he is a non-native species. How many hippos can say that? One!
Lu may be the only hippo here to entertain thousands of visitors each year, but he is surrounded by many furry, feathered and scaly animal friends which made it a great place for our whole family to explore. While this location started as a roadside animal attraction with a focus on entertainment in the 1940s, this state park now aims to promote conservation through education and the animals here all serve as ambassadors of sorts for their species. The Wildlife Walk offers visitors a beautiful boardwalk (and I love boardwalks!) from which to get a glimpse of this captive wildlife, all of which is unable to survive in the wild for various reasons, ranging from wing injuries to blindness to the unfortunate consequences of improper (and illegal) human behavior. This is the case for Fancy, a beautiful Sherman’s Fox Squirrel who was removed from the wild as a baby when someone tried to make her a pet.
You will find a black bear, otter, bobcat, alligators, manatees, red fox, plus a wide range of birds including owls, flamingos, bald eagle, osprey, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, caracaras, hawks, herons and more! Take a look at a few:
Be sure to check out the Fish Bowl Underwater Observatory in the main spring to get a stunning view of the spring and the fish and manatees. There is a cafe in the park as well as picnic pavilions so we enjoyed a leisurely break at a picnic bench overlooking the tranquil Homosassa River, where boaters gathered on a beautiful sunny Florida afternoon.
There are no camping facilities at this park, which is located in Citrus County. However, it makes a wonderful day trip from nearby campgrounds (we were based up near Three Sisters Springs). Be prepared that the entrance fees are higher here than most state parks: Adults (age 13+), $13; children ages 6-12, $5; children 5 and under are admitted free.
All six of us really liked our experience at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. It is a shining example of progress, in my opinion, illustrating our society’s shift from using animals as entertainment to focusing on animal welfare and conservation. We have come a long way from the days when steamboats shuttled wealthy patrons up and down Florida’s waterways just so they could view, shoot and stuff our fascinatingly ‘strange’ birds and other animals, and that’s a good thing in my book!
As for Lu, he has far surpassed the average lifespan of an African hippo in the wild and he’s starting to feel it. No longer can park visitors buy bags of marshmallows to toss into his mouth: these days, he takes nearly 100 pills a day to help ease his arthritis pain. Lu is irreplaceable – there will be no more exotic species brought in to take his place when he passes. He is one of the last living vestiges of a bygone Florida. Pay him a visit while you can.