Enjoy intimate encounters with animals of all types at Jungle Gardens, an animal menagerie and show extravaganza
Pop quiz – who’s nearly 80 years old, has been to Folsom Prison, and performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in the 1950s? Johnny Cash? Nope. It’s Frosty, the 79-year-old unicycle-riding cockatoo at Sarasota’s Jungle Gardens. An animal encounter and show extravaganza, Jungle Gardens gives an up close and hands on approach to birds and reptiles, with bonus mammals thrown in for fun.
Meeting Frosty, and More
At Jungle Gardens, patrons can alternate between following the paved walkways through jungles of foliage to view the various animals – including lemurs, crocodiles, and the now-appreciated skunks – or view the three scheduled shows throughout the day to see the animals in action and learn their traits, idiosyncrasies, and history.
This is where we learned about the aforementioned Frosty. Watching him ride a unicycle across a wire arouses smiles and gasps from the audience, but I found his history to be equally awesome. In the 1950s he learned his trick while at the Folsom Prison and later found fame by appearing the same week as Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan. He has been at Jungle Gardens since 1972 and practices his unicycle riding often. This is what John, our show’s host, believes is the reason behind his youthful spunk. Like humans, you use it or you lose it. And Frosty definitely has not lost it.
Petting and Feeding the Locals
Not only can one hold various animals, but the encounters continue with animal feeding. The petting zoo boasts goats, chickens, a tortoise, and more while quarter machines throughout the park sell food for turtles, koi, alligators, and flamingos.
I am consistently amazed at how bravely my children approach these tall creatures, hands outstretched with bird food pellets, oblivious to the fact that many of the flamingos are taller than their under-four-foot selves. Stunningly beautiful with their pink plumage and long, graceful bodies, the masses of flamingos are ready for goodies. And by forking it over, we are able to observe the way they hold their beaks to dine, see their unusual eyes, watch their webbed feet spread as they walk, and notice the teeth and tongues. This is no normal animal refuge where the flamingos stand one-footed in a pond, ready for their photo op; it’s better.
Grabbing a Bite as the Kids Play
In the middle of the park lies a playground where the little ones can run wild as parents enjoy a cup of coffee or a sandwich from The Flamingo Café. The park can keep the kids happily entertained with its train and giant coral snake for imagination exploration galore. Climb, jump, slide. All while hearing the glorious sounds of monkeys and macaws.
“Meow” mews Ms. Pink, now deciding she is one of the animals like the so many that surround her. And I pet her, oohing and aahing over her feline traits, agreeing to buy her kitty food (aka popcorn) on the way to the reptile show. After being immersed in the animal world, she is now one of them, part of her own personal jungle where the animals and humans merge, her head full of respect for and knowledge about the animals. By being here, by becoming a part of their world, she has learned more than I could ever teach her at home or from a book. And she has taught me, as well.
By: Liz Sandburg