• Heather

Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

Exotic Animal Encounters

The Sarasota Jungle Gardens are a beautifully landscaped, lush tropical botanical garden covering ten acres with three picturesque lakes, a butterfly aviary, waterfalls, and a koi pond. The gardens contain free roaming flamingos, a mini zoo with numerous exotic animals, a petting zoo, various animal interactions, and bird and animal shows. There are more than 200 native and exotic animals. Many of the animals have been rescued or donated including Florida’s pink flamingos. This family owned and operated attraction is located in the beautiful Gulf coast city of Sarasota, Florida and has been delighting visitors since 1939.

“A Florida Bucket List activity is hand feeding the flamingos.”

The animal shows are focused on education and entertainment and intended for all ages. Each show is approximately 20 minutes. The presentations are given by the animal keepers and the audience is encouraged to ask questions at the end of the show. The shows are included in the General Admission ticket. During high season and the era of Covid (where there are less seats available to allow for social distancing), the seating fills up quickly so you may wish to arrive about 15 minutes prior to the start time. All the shows are held at the Bird Pavilion which is located to the left as you exit the Visitor Center.

The first bird show, Exotic Bird Show featuring Macaws and Cockatoos, was introduced in the early 1970’s. An interesting fact mentioned in the History of the gardens is the original birds for the show were trained by prison inmates from California and the birds were named “Jail Birds”. Macaws have an average lifespan in the wild of about 25-30 years while they may live up to 50 years in a healthy captivity setting. The average lifespan of cockatoos range between 50 and 70 years if they have a healthy, loving environment. Subsequently, some of the birds from the first shows are still entertaining visitors today. I attended the Exotic Bird Show and it was immensely entertaining. It boggles my mind that a bird can be trained to perform acts like rollerskating and basketball. Too cute! I found it fascinating that the African Grey Parrot could mimic a wide variety of animal noises. There are several different shows but each include snakes. Since I’m afraid of snakes, I have not attended these shows or explored the Reptile World Exhibit. The Reptile World Exhibit is housed in its own separate building. Since it is an interior space, visitors are required to wear a face mask at this time.

Have you ever dreamed of feeding a flamingo?

Make your dreams come true as the Sarasota Jungle Gardens. My favorite activity at Sarasota Jungle Gardens is hand feeding the flamingos. I was a little intimidated at first because these tall, wading birds have large hooked beaks. I was worried it would hurt to feed these large beaked birds by hand. However, let me reassure you, it doesn’t hurt at all. I could barely feel the flamingos eating the food pellets from my open palm. The flamingos turn their heads sideways to access the pellets and they are very gentle. Be sure to observe their tongues which have rows of lamellae that are comb-like structures. In the wild, these white colored, hair-like tendrils are instrumental in filtering out crustaceans and algae from muddy waters. There were many small children happily feeding the flamingos so it’s a good activity for little kids if they are not afraid of the large birds. It’s a truly magical experience to be so close to these magnificent, brilliantly colored birds and watching them eat from your own hand. Visitors can purchase food to feed the flamingos, crocodiles, and turtles. You can buy the Flamingo Food by the bag in the Visitor Center for $3.50/bag or from the coin operated machines ($0.25 per handful, quarters only) near the flamingo feeding area.

I have visited Sarasota Jungle Gardens on two occasions: in the afternoon (1:30-3:30 pm) in April 2019 and in the morning (10:30 am – 12:30 pm) in August 2020. The flamingos were very hungry in the morning. At times there were two to three flamingos eating from my hand. I went through my bag of Flamingo Food in just a few minutes. In contrast, during my afternoon visit, the flamingos were not hungry at all. My husband and I spent at least a half hour trying to get them to eat and didn’t finish the bag of food. We gave the rest of the bag to a little girl who had just arrived at the flamingo area. My Pro Tip is go in the morning! I have seen flamingos on three continents and find them fascinating so I created a blog post of Fun Facts About Flamingos including the debate about if flamingos are native to Florida.

There are animal interactions at the Petting Zoo and this activity is included in the General Admission ticket. The gardens offer several other Encounters such as posing with one of the exotic birds and holding a gator or touching an aldabra (giant tortoise). These encounters used to be included in the General Admission ticket (April 2019) but now (August 2020) require an additional ticket of $5. I decided to get up close and personal with an exotic bird and I was paired with Sunny, a Harlequin Macaw, a magnificent parrot with stunning colorful plumage. She was inquisitive and I felt she was curious about me. My husband made friends with Frosty, a snow white cockatoo, who has a comical personality.

There is a wheelchair accessible path called The Jungle Loop that meanders through the gardens and is about 1.2 miles. The majority of the loop is shaded by the overhanging trees. There are benches throughout the park for a rest and to enjoy the lovely vista. It definitely feels like you are in nature even though the city of Sarasota is so close. Other park amenities include a playground, a gift shop, and a café aptly named the Flamingo Café. The Flamingo Café served as the home of several of the early owners and their families and the koi pond was their swimming pool.

The Sarasota Jungle Gardens is a fun, entertaining, family-friendly, and educational experience. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about and be amazed by many exotic species from the animal kingdom.

Temporary Hours:

Thursday – Sunday: 10:00 am – 3:30 pm

Closed Monday – Wednesday, Thanksgiving, Christmas

Show Schedule:

11:00 am Multi Species Animal Show

12:00 pm Jungle Bird Show

1:00 pm Wildlife Wonder Show

3:00 pm Reptile Show

General Admission:

Adults: $17.99

Children Ages 4-12: $12.99

Seniors Ages 65+: $16.99

Now all visitors must purchase tickets online: click here

Address: 3701 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, FL 34234

Phone: 941-355-5305

Website: www.sarasotajunglegardens.com