Sarasota Jungle Gardens is one of the more historic attractions in the area, sprawled on 10 acres of what was once deemed “an impenetrable swamp” according to the city records of the early 1930s. It features a plethora of both native and exotic plants and animals in a beautiful and very family-friendly environment.
We got there just before the first reptile show at 11AM by which time it was already sweltering because it’s Florida in August. The crowd was shown four reptiles. Besides the baby alligator, we could have put on a show just like it ourselves at home, which made me chuckle because that’s not something I ever would have thought before I had children! But the fact is that my garage fridge has a dedicated shelf for insect food, worms and thawing mice. Since my offspring love reptiles, we then made our way straight to the reptile house where we admired all sorts of interesting venomous and non-venomous snakes from around the globe, pet a red-tailed boa, and watched a chameleon change color before our very eyes.
We then wandered by the large American alligator and crocodile. My map-obsessed boy led us to the playground but it was a little too hot to be running around, so we just took a quick break on a shaded bench to apply sunscreen. Then I was somehow convinced we should indulge in ice cream and water for lunch and feed the small koi at the pond outside the Flamingo Cafe. We even spotted a baby turtle coming up for some sun on a lily pad.
We meandered through the butterfly garden but saw only bees on the beautiful colored blossoms: I think the butterflies were seeking shade, and we couldn’t blame them. Three swans drifted gracefully along in the pond. Even the gulls seemed to be panting in the heat of this August day.
Knowing from past visits to this attraction that feeding flamingos is a highlight, I had purchased two large bags of flamingo food at the entrance but it turned out the flamingos weren’t really in the mood. They generally stood out in the water a few feet from shore, preening, snoozing and squawking at one another with their feathers in a ruffle. A sign informed us that it was breeding season so they may be a little cantankerous, but really it just took a bit of patience and an outstretched hand to entice them close enough to accept our offerings.
Fortunately there are many tilapia in the water and they too love the flamingo food. My kids liked feeding those just as much as the flamingos.
One of my favorite parts of Sarasota Jungle Gardens is the many shaded meandering paths where we pass over tiny streams, see colorful totem poles along the way, and get to see some amazing creatures such as lemurs, hawks, and owls. Although it always saddens me on some level that these latter creatures aren’t flying free, I know things happen and they end up in rehabilitation and for numerous reasons, cannot be set free. While some creatures here are wild and here by choice, more than 80% of them were donated or rescued from adverse conditions. I’m glad they have a safe home here.
We stopped for a while at the turtle pool to watch a variety of species, including snapping turtles, red-eared sliders and soft-shelled turtles. After quite some observation, we determined that it is in fact one particular soft-shelled turtle who rules that pond. We eventually caved and bought some food for them because they demanded it from us with their eyes. It was two quarters well spent.
There is also a petting zoo with numerous goats and two small black pigs. The chickens and emu could be seen but not touched. The kids had fun petting and brushing these friendly creatures.
We finished our few hours at Sarasota Jungle Gardens at the bird posing area. We waited in a short line for the chance to have a beautiful bird perch on the kids’ arms for a moment in exchange for a little snack. It was interesting to hear about the history of some of these birds, including that Frosty Senior is more than 80 years old and that Frosty Junior, who rocked out bobbing his head in rhythm to Gloria Estefan playing from a lady’s phone while we waited in line, is in his mid forties. I later learned that Frosty Senior is a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo who was born in 1936 and was originally trained in a Folsom Prison rehabilitation program by inmates who were learning patience, responsibility and care. They taught him to ride a unicycle on a high-wire, a trick he still performs to this day. He apparently was a frequent guest on the popular Ed Sullivan Show as well. This bird has seen a lot in his life. Like many humans, he retired to Florida and has been here since 1971.
I really appreciated that if a bird was not in the mood to pose, the zookeepers did not force it – they would simply return her to her perch and suggest another. I love that they are in tune with what these animals are comfortable with and what they’re not. They said that while the birds age in years, their mental state stays at approximately that of a 3-year-old, tantrums and mood swings and all. These birds have personality!
All in all, it was a fun – albeit sizzling – few hours. It’s hard for me to resist a deal so when I saw Sarasota Jungle Gardens was offering a Back to School Bash where I could take 3 of my children for free with one paid adult, I took three of my kids to Jungle Gardens. (Don’t worry, the other one went shopping with Dad so she was happy too!) In 1936, it cost just 35 cents per adult and 10 cents per child to wander this jungle but, alas, times change and as of August 2017, the prices were $17.99 for adults and $12.99 for kids ages 4-16. It’s worth looking online for a deal or coupon!