The waters of Florida have been so warm this year that the manatees, who can’t survive long in water below 68 degrees fahrenheit, don’t need to find hot springs. This makes finding them difficult because they’re more spread out, and our first attempt at the powerplant outside of Tampa failed. So we went to the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. I was expecting to go there and just find a couple of manatees, but they had a whole little zoo. Technically, it’s a rehabilitation center, but most of the animals they have on display will never be able to be released to the wild, and so are on display.
They had an impressive number of birds, half of which seemed to have just wandered into the enclosures for a snack. I saw over a dozen black-crowned night herons, which have been one of my favorite birds since I did a report on them in third grade, and had never seen in real life before. I had known they had red eyes, but not this red.
The red-backed hawks were the models of the place, posing in the light in a way that just begged you to take their picture. They were getting more attention even than the bald eagle, who had the American flag in his enclosure.
And no one was even looking at the whooping cranes. I guess if your species’s incredible comeback from near extinction was more than a few years ago, nobody remembers or cares.
There were a bunch of mammals as well, including a panther, black bear, a couple of bobcats, and an extremely rare red wolf. The cutest was the red fox, another animal I had never seen in person before.
Po the hippopotamus, who apparently starred in many movies during his youth, was housed there as well, but the manatees were the stars of the show. Three resident (captive) manatees are fed romaine lettuce three times daily. I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see these guys eat. Related to elephants, their upper lip is partially prehensile, and they use this to pull food into their mouths.
If you’re in northern Florida, I wouldn’t miss coming here. It’s a great place to see and learn about southern wildlife, and would be great for kids of all ages.