4 Kid-Friendly Animal Adventures in SWFL

Get your tots up close and personal with fur, feathers and scales along the Gulfshore.

BY September 29, 2023
Bonita Springs’ Wonder Gardens
Bonita Springs’ Wonder Gardens is filled with flamingos, gators and brightly colored peacocks. (Photo by Anna Nguyen)

Iguanaland, Punta Gorda

Scaly creatures of all kinds make kids light up at the 12-acre Iguanaland, the largest reptile zoo in the state. “We have some of the rarest reptiles in any collection, including some major zoos around the world,” says herpetologist and conservationist Ty Park, Iguanaland’s founder. Naturalists-in-training can meet more than 200 species of cold-blooded critters, including the rare Anegada rock iguana. There are about 300 of them left on Anegada Island in the British Virgin Islands, and only 11 in the United States; six of those are at Iguanaland.

For little reptile enthusiasts, Iguanaland specializes in education, research and conservation. “We only preserve what we know—and like,” Ty says, adding that he aims to encourage young minds to respect and protect reptiles around the world. 


The Bird Gardens of Naples

The Bird Gardens offers the chance to interact with critically endangered parrot species, like the blue-throated, scarlet and hyacinth macaws. The gardens’ owner, Keriellen Lohrman, sees wonder spark every time she leads a group through the sanctuary. “A lot of the little kids are afraid to hold a big bird like Romeo, our blue-and-gold macaw,” she says. “But then, he lays down on his back like a baby and they can just rock him.” Romeo is famous for stealing scrunchies, hats—and hearts. “Everybody falls in love with him,” Keriellen says.

Guides lead visitors through the bright aviary, where more than 200 birds from around the world—all of which have been surrendered due to unforeseen circumstances—flap their wings and swing on perches in this vibrant oasis, near Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. For an extra up-close experience, kids can bring unsalted almonds or blueberries (no peanuts, to be mindful of allergies) to share. You can also inquire about taking home a feathered friend—hundreds of these intelligent, highly social birds get adopted from the sanctuary every year.


Wonder Gardens, Bonita Springs

Since the 1930s, the ecological park has been thrilling adventurers. Today, Wonder Gardens offers kids a chance to experience a diverse range of rescued, rehabilitated creatures that can’t be released (they’re not equipped to survive in the wild).

Guests arrive at the renovated welcome center, which was recently completed after 10 months of work due to Hurricane Ian damage. From there, little explorers go on to find brightly feathered macaws, cockatoos, flamingos and roaming peacocks, plus pythons, tortoises and alligators, among the flora. 

Kids over the age of 5 will love the Wild Wonders Animal Encounters. On these small-group, guided tours, children can feed the sulcata tortoises, and coconut and rainbow and lorikeets.

Kowiachobee Animal
Preserve, Naples

Kowiachobee—which means ‘big cat’ in the Seminole Muscogee language—is home to big cats (lions, tigers, panthers and leopards), exotic birds, reptiles and farm animals. The preserve mainly focuses on education with lessons that get into the biological nitty-gritty, like the differences between herbivores and carnivores, or the warm- and cold-blooded.

“We’re a hands-on facility,” the preserve’s Brandi Frushour Verder says. “In order for kids to learn, they need to be able to touch things. We’re here to teach them about having responsibility toward animals and the conservation that’s needed in our world today.” There are plenty of curious creatures here for kids to put their hands on, such as ball pythons as well as descented skunks (phew!).

Though the preserve isn’t open to the public, private visits and educational tours can be arranged. Kowiachobee regularly welcomes groups from the Boys & Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts of the USA and local special needs groups.

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