Voted the #1 Family Friendly Zoo in America by Child Magazine, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is indeed a treat for all ages. Set on 56 lush, tropical acres, the zoo has long been a favorite attraction of both locals and visitors.
The first Tampa Zoo was founded in the 1930s in Plant Park. This early zoo included a small collection of animals indigenous to the area. Over the next twenty years, however, the collection continued to grow and soon became too large for the Plant Park location. In 1957, Mayor Nick Nuccio decided to move the zoo to more spacious Lowry Park.
Though this new location provided more room for the now diverse collection of animals, when the zoo was presented with its first Asian elephant in 1961, things began to seem crowded once again. By the 1970s, the need to upgrade the existent habitats and build new, more appropriate ones was evident. This need prompted the formation of the Lowry Park Zoo Association in 1982, an organization which remains committed to the upkeep of the zoo and its mission to raise awareness of this excellent zoological garden.
While for decades the zoo belonged to the City of Tampa Department of Parks and Recreation, in 1988, the aforementioned association became the Lowry Park Zoological Society, a private organization that now operates and manages the zoo. The land on which it sits still belongs to the city.
That same year, a new, rejuvenated zoo opened to the public and the following year, it became accredited by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. Several other additions and renovations have occurred during the last twenty years as deemed appropriate.
The animal habitats inside the Lowry Park Zoo, of course, have always been the main attraction. More than 2,000 animals are housed here, all in lush habitats that resemble their natural surroundings.
The zoo is divided into 8 different sections featuring a variety of animals and species in each area. The Asian Gardens features animals of the Far East including tigers, leopards, and a number of endangered species. Don't miss the playful sloth bears and the unusual-looking tapirs, a pig-shaped endangered prehistoric herbivore with a strange prehensile snout.
In the Wallaroo Station, an interactive family-oriented section of the zoo, guests can visit with favorite animals from Australia including kangaroos, wallabies, kookaburra, and others. Kids are encouraged to pet the resident goats and take a ride on one of the ponies.
Safari Africa and the Ituri Forest provide an up close look at some of the Dark Continent's most treasured animals. The forest portion of the African habitat is modeled after the Ituri rainforest of the Congo and includes rhinos, elephants, giraffes, and several other animals that were recently introduced to the zoo. This is the newest attraction at Lowry Park.
The Florida Boardwalk highlights those animals indigenous to the state of Florida. Guests can stroll the boardwalk, looking up, down, and everywhere else to enjoy a view of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish of the Sunshine State. This area of the Lowry Park Zoo features two interactive exhibits – The Harrell Discovery Center, where many of the zoo's smallest animals are housed, and Stingray Bay, where visitors can touch these magnificent creatures.
Primate World is a favorite of all visitors. This section of the zoo includes playful monkeys of various species as well as chimpanzees, orangutans, lemurs, marmosets, and rare golden lion tamarins.
The Free Flight Aviaries inside the park allow hundreds of birds of 50 different species to fly as they wish. This is one of the prettiest sections of the zoo, complete with gently flowing waterfalls and a river. It's also a great place to snap a few photos of colorful birds enjoying their natural habitat.
Residents in the zoo's Birds of Prey section look ominous but are always crowd pleasers as they entertain each day in the Spirits of the Sky show. The Florida Manatee and Aquatic Center also presents a daily show featuring the zoo's endangered manatee population. Guests can also visit the manatee hospital and talk to doctors and trainers about the plight of this animal, often called the "sea cow".
Aside from animal exhibits, the Lowry Park Zoo also offers a collection of amusement park-type rides for those who wish to enjoy some extra fun. Rides are at an additional cost and guests can purchase unlimited ride wristbands on the day of their visit.
Rides include the Gator Falls Flume Ride, the Treetop Skyfari (a skyride), the Safari Ride guided tour through the African habitat, the Tasmanian Tiger Family Coaster – suitable for all ages, Boomer's Flying Bananas (for the little ones), the Jungle Carousel, Pony Trek pony rides, and the Camel Caravan Ride, which give guests the opportunity to ride a real camel.
Other Amenities and Attractions
Lowry Park Zoo also sponsors daily River Odyssey Eco-tours, which take visitors on a boat ride on the Hillsborough River to explore local flora and fauna. These 1-hour tours operate several times a day and fares can be purchased in combination with regular zoo admission.
The zoo also offers several restaurants, a Starbucks coffee shop, fountains and playgrounds suitable for young visitors, and a number of gift shops.