Top Non-Zoo Animal Encounters of South Florida


For some children, the best way for them to foster a love of wildlife is to expose them in intimate ways to live animals.  Children have a natural fascination and are eager learners when it comes to understanding various species.  Zoos are a wonderful overview of a variety of animals but sometimes smaller or more indigineous exhibits can really spark their interest.  

Kids will love observing, or interacting with, wild animals in their natural habitats.  Many of these animal encounters allow them to pet or touch the animals and get up close as well. Zoological parks, great as they might be, are often too sanitized, and, commercialized, to offer true wildlife lovers a worthwhile experience.  In South Florida there are plenty of really neat nature centers, farms and wildlife rescues that can offer you and your family a unique, local experience with South Florida wildlife!  Despite being home to some of the most urban spaces in the country, the south Florida region as a whole offers unrivaled opportunities to wildlife enthusiasts. 

Let us take a closer look at the choices available to wildlife buffs in the four counties of this region. 

Broward County

1) Sawgrass Recreation Park: The Everglades, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is indisputably the crown jewel of the south Florida region. For residents of Broward county, there is no better way to explore the beautiful subtropical wilderness of this national park than through an airboat tour at Sawgrass. It is especially a surreal feeling to enjoy their customized night time rides, aptly called gator rides. The tour not only lets you observe alligators in the wild, but also provides you an opportunity to cradle baby gators. In addition, you will get to observe several other species, both native and foreign to the region, including friendly turtles and iguanas. The endangered Florida Panther is especially a hit with visitors. 

2) Deerfield Island Park: Officially designated as an urban wilderness area, the Deerfield Island Park is only reached through a boat. The mangrove swamp at the island serves as a refuge for a variety of species including manatees, gopher tortoises, armadillos, and foxes. 

3) Butterfly World: Located in Coconut Creek, the Butterfly World is a true treasure for wildlife enthusiasts. Butterfly World is a unique conservation project that houses as many as 80 butterfly species from South and Central America, and Southeast and Far East Asia. You would also get to observe native species in a special aviary called the North American Butterflies. While butterflies are clearly the star of the show, visitors will also be delighted by several types of colorful birds at this venue. 

4) Billie Swamp Safari: Another popular way to discover the wildlife haven that is the Everglades. The Safari tours are conducted everyday through the hammocks and wetlands, bringing visitors up and close to animals such as deer, water buffalo, wild hogs, alligators, and birds of prey like hawks and eagles. There are also entertaining wildlife and reptile shows conducted here.  **This attraction is technically NOT in Broward but can be accessed via 595**

5) Flamingo Gardens: Spread over 60 acres, Flamingo gardens serves as a refuge for injured and non-releasable wildlife. The gardens is the largest sanctuary of wildlife native to Florida including alligators, bears, bobcats, eagles, otters, panthers, and, of course, flamingos. 

6) Everglades Holiday Park: Yet another window to the majestic Everglades. You can take airboat rides, and watch alligators sunning lazily in glassy waters. 

7) Anne Kolb Nature Center & West Lake Park: You can rent a kayak or a canoe to reach one of the biggest urban nature facilities in the state of Florida. West Lake Park features boardwalks that snake through mangrove forests, providing you a peek into the regions threatened and endangered species. 

8) MODS (Museum of Discovery & Science) Located in the heart of Fort Lauderdale, this wonderful multi-story science center is filled with interesting interactive displays.  The critters are on the first floor with aquariums, otters, a touch tank, and creepy crawlies.

9) Long Key Natural Area & Nature Center This Davie treasure is in the western part of Broward county. The exhibit hall features an actual archaeological dig pit; hands on exhibits of native vegetation and birds as well as live animals including snakes, scorpions, frogs and alligators.