Sarasota Jungle Gardens was a stop on our Florida trip that I was super looking forward to. I have always wanted to see a real, live, pink flamingo, and once I read that you could feed these right out of your hand--I just couldn’t wait. I am not sure what the fascination is with the tall pink birds. Maybe it is just that they are pink..? I don’t know, but I was excited.So we took a left at the gate on Bay Shore Road and followed it all the way to the Jungle Gardens. Off-season is the perfect time to hit these tourist hot spots and the parking lot only had a handful of cars on this early Saturday afternoon. The prices were a little high though, $15 per person except Grandpa who was over 60 and only $14. Luckily I had a coupon for $1 off everyone in the party and I think they are pretty much always available on their website, so don’t go without it! Then you can use your savings to buy the large bag of Flamingo Food that is for sale at the ticket counter. You have to feed the flamingos--it makes the visit! And off we went! There was a reptile show going on when we arrived, but we opted for the self-guided tour and passed by the zoo keeper holding the snake entirely too close to the humans for my comfort level! First we checked out the alligators and crocodiles which Florida is famous for. They were huge and looked to me to be in entirely too small a wading pool for such a beast...they didn’t move, but I guess they were all alive and happy--enough. Directly past the archaic monsters was the parrot and exotic bird area with at least 40 colorful and quite vocal feathered friends. They were amazingly vibrant in their colors and several spoke to us saying, “Hi!” and “Hello.” The most surprising part about the parrots was to learn that several of them were 60 or 70 years old! Apparently most of the animals who make Sarasota Jungle Gardens their home are all from rescues, rehabs or owners who have “donated” them with the decision that they could no longer care for their exotic pets. That makes sense since the lifespan of the various parrots is at least that of the average human. Probably not a good pet choice, just my opinion, unless you have kids who can take care of it 50 years or so after you buy it. It doesn’t seem fair that the more common pet, our most loyal and cherished companions, dogs, don’t get even a quarter the life span of the parrot. Oh well, they were pretty. Next on the path were prairie dogs and monkeys, and we made our way through the butterfly garden and around to the lake, across which I could spot in the distance--The Flamingos!! So excited! Get the food ready! The seagulls, ducks and one big black goose who have all voluntarily made Sarasota Jungle Gardens their home (who can blame them, tourists passing through every few minutes with big bags of food) were first to arrive for grub. We did manage to attract one flamingo who was not shy and made his way through the crowd of shore birds to claim his lunch. We continued to wind our way through the lush 10-acre jungle with over 100 species palm trees, reading all the little placards that describe plants and animals. We eventually came out on the other side of the lake approaching the large flock of waiting flamingos. The aggressive big black goose led the way when he spotted us, and I swear I think he had even stalked us through the trees a few times, knowing that we still had most of an entire bag of food left. These extremely tall pink birds are not shy! And when I say tall, I mean that you will be eye to eye with them if they stretch out their long pink necks even part of the way! The flock is probably numbered at near 30 birds, and they are truly majestic and awesome. The most surprising characteristics about the friendly fowl are how long their necks are, how tall they are and how their beaks curve at an almost 90 degree angle! Most, if not all, of the salmon-hued birds were hatched here at the gardens and hand raised by zookeepers until they joined the flock to roam free which explains how friendly they are. I could have stayed there all day hanging out with the tall coral-colored creatures, but the heat was almost unbearable combined with over 80 percent humidity, the index had to be over 100. So we made our way past the recovering birds of prey, another favorite of mine since I volunteered at the Raptor Rehabilitation Center outside of Charleston, SC, when I was in college, and found respite in the nicely air-conditioned gift shop that you have to pass through on the way to the parking lot. Still enamored with the flamingos we just had to buy a five dollar beanie baby version for the youngest of our crew to take home as a keepsake...although, I admit, I really wanted the stuffed giant one to sleep with myself! All in all though I do have to say that the price seemed high, and as far as zoos go, I have never been a huge fan because it is hard to reason to myself about their cramped living conditions. However, I tried to keep in mind that the majority of these animals came from inhumane situations or rescues from the wild and they are being rehabilitated and are now hopefully educating the public. The flamingos, though, made the trip completely worth it! Let me know what you think.
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