Happy Earth Day, Zoo Friends!

Written by Katie Allen and Tyson Facto, Animal Care Professionals

St Petersburg, FL has started a new campaign to reduce, and eventually eliminate the use of plastic straws. The city is asking residents and businesses to stop using straws when ordering drinks at restaurants and coffee shops. In turn, businesses will only provide straws to customers that request one.

Why is this simple action so important? Single-use plastics, such as straws and plastic bags are having a drastic effect on our oceans and marine life. To a fish, a small piece of plastic can accidentally become its next meal. Unfortunately, over 100 million marine animals are hurt each year due to plastics in the ocean and along the shoreline.

The aftermath of excessive plastic has a drastic effect on the world around us. It is estimated that more than 8 MILLION tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year.  Recently, a sperm whale was found on a beach in Spain with 64 lbs. of plastic in its stomach and intestines. Devastating situations like this are becoming more frequent around the world. It’s up to us to make the first step to a greener future.

How is ZooTampa committed to reducing our use of plastics?

  • Plastic bags and straws are not offered at any of our retail and restaurant locations.
  • Recycling bins are found throughout the park.
  • Reusable cups are used at Lorikeet Landing.
  • Reusable cups and bags are sold in our gift shops.

So, how can YOU help?  Your choices make a difference:

  • Say “no” to plastics straws, lids and bags! It’s a great first step in becoming more environmentally conscious.
  • Recycle plastic at the nearest recycling center. You  can even recycle your cans, paper, metals, and more
  • Don’t litter! Tampa Bay is beautiful and we want to keep it that way. Littering is the easiest way for plastic to end up in the ocean and in the stomachs of marine life.
  • Join a beach cleanup or take a bucket to the beach. Make a personal goal to pick up the trash at the local beach or river. Every bit of cleanup helps!
  • Support government initiatives, like St. Pete’s “No straw” campaign, or start your own initiative. A simple ripple can create a greater impact.
  • Find alternatives to plastics you use every day. Other options won’t break the bank and can help Mother Earth.

To celebrate our beautiful planet on Earth Day, we encourage you to make a pledge to reduce your consumption of single- plastics.  Although these seem like small steps, we have the power to make a change and become better advocates for the environment.

Birdy Spotlight!

Written by Kristen Merrill, Animal Care Professional

In celebration of the Year of the Bird, the Aviary team at ZooTampa is shining a spotlight on their favorite feathered friends! This month – the palm cockatoos!

Found in Australia, New Guinea, and Indonesia, palm cockatoos are a large cockatoo species that are black in color, but their “powder down” gives it a grey hue. “Powder down” are feathers that break down into a powder that the parrot then distributes throughout their other feathers during preening to keep them clean. Palm cockatoos also have red cheeks and a large crest. These beautiful characteristics actually help display the cockatoo’s mood! They have small feathers on the sides of the red patches, that can be moved up and down. Depending on their mood, they can choose to cover the patches with feathers, or proudly display those cheeks. The patches can turn a pale pink color if upset, or bright red if very excited. They have a large beak in between their cheeks, that actually cannot completely close. This allows for the cockatoo to break nuts open much easier using their finger-like tongue. Nuts are a palm cockatoos favorite snack, which is where they get their name from-palm nuts!

While Palm cockatoos are not currently considered endangered, the population is on the decline due to habitat destruction. They nest in hollow trees that the male cockatoo will line with sticks. The males will also drum along the side of the nesting area using a stick to create regular rhythms. They were actually just shown to be the only nonhuman species to produce a type of music using tools to amplify the sound. Male palm cockatoos set a beat just like a human drummer would do in a band!

Our palm cockatoo here at ZooTampa gives his own concerts throughout the day, whistling at guests while they pass by into the Wallaroo area. His name is Ernie, and he is such a big personality! Ernie just turned 19 on March 19th, which makes him fairly young for a cockatoo. Their lifespan can be from 60-80 years! Parrots, like Ernie, are generally portrayed as charismatic and affectionate pets. But due to their long lifespan, intelligence, and specialized care, getting a parrot for a pet should be thoroughly researched. They need constant attention and items to keep them busy, otherwise, they may develop neurological issues. At the Zoo, Ernie receives enrichment items and training daily to keep him mentally and physically stimulated. On your next visit to ZooTampa at Lowry Park, be sure to stop by and visit Ernie at the entrance of Wallaroo!

Day of Discovery


Sensory Friendly Christmas Experience

November 30 , 2019 | 8:00am - 9:30am

ZooTampa at Lowry Park is thrilled to raise awareness for autism in the Tampa Bay community through Day of Discovery events. We aim to provide unforgettable experiences for all guests, including those with special needs.

Join us at ZooTampa at Lowry Park for our sensory friendly Christmas celebration. During this daytime event, families to explore our some of our Christmas themed areas, decorate cookies and listen to a story from Mrs. Clause. In addition, families can download social stories and parent tips prior to the event on ZooTampa at Lowry Park or CARD website.

Doors will open at 8:00 a.m. for Sensory Christmas in the Wild participants only, with lights and sounds adapted for individuals with sensory differences and their families. Sensory Christmas in the Wild concludes  at 9:30 a.m.


Distract-Packs are available at Guest Services.

Distract Packs are available at Guest Services.

This event is FREE for Zoo Members.

Non-Members: Only $5 if purchased before event date and $8 on day of event.

Parking is FREE.

Special Thanks

ZooTampa’s Day of Discovery is made possible by: SunTrust Foundation and The Lowry Murphey Family Foundation, Inc.

We also acknowledge the generous efforts of Autism Shifts and the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) at USF for their efforts in helping to make this event a success.  We also recognize the support of The Learning Academy at USF, Autism Speaks and the Diversity Action Coalition and applaud their efforts to promote inclusive experiences.

Transforming a Zoo

Creative Sign Designs is honored to be a part of big changes coming from Lowry Park Zoo as it transitions its brand to ZooTampa at Lowry Park.The Creative Sign Designs’ team has been trusted play a role in bringing their new identity to life in 2018 starting with their front entrance signage. Creative Sign Designs looks forward to being a part of this historic project for such an iconic Tampa Bay destination.

The new front entrance signage gives guests their first look at the monumental modifications that are happening at ZooTampa. Prior to the launch, Creative Sign Designs worked overnight installing the major masterpiece. Creative Sign Designs created a fun time-lapse video of the progress.

The new signage is only the first of many fresh changes that the Zoo will be making, as part of their contemporary rebranding. In addition to the new signage, the Zoo has debuted a new website and is in the process of revitalizing the Florida area.

Creative will also be installing newly branded in-park signage, which identifies each of the Zoo’s unique geographic areas, as well as new directional signposts and maps. They will also be installing new informational signs around key animal locations. The installations will continue through the end of April.

The Zoo’s partnership with Creative stemmed from the relationship between the two companies’ head executives. Jamie Harden, CEO of Creative, and Joe Couceiro, CEO of ZooTampa, have been friends for years and met through their affiliation with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. With Harden’s impressive roster of local clients, Couceiro chose to bring the Creative team on to be part of the Zoo’s revitalization.

Since it was founded in 1986, Creative has grown to be the leader in custom signage. This year alone, Creative has helped refresh and rebrand some of Tampa’s leading companies and organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times, the Mahaffey Theater, the Ybor City Development Corporation and now the Zoo. The Creative team is excited to continue to build relationships and partner with brands in every industry.

Green, Rare & New at the Zoo

We are so excited to welcome six new Fiji banded iguanas to our Zoo family! The Fiji banded iguana is an extremely rare species, both in zoos and in the wild. They can only be found naturally on the Fiji islands.

Fiji banded iguana eggs take 160 to 200 days to hatch. That means our herpetology team had to watch over the eggs for 5 months! They created a suitable nesting site for the female to dig a cavity to lay her eggs. Afterward, they collected the eggs, set them up for incubation and watched over them for as they developed into healthy hatchlings.

The Fiji banded iguana adults typically reach a length of 7.5 inches and mature between 3 and 4 years old. The males are bright green with wide blue or light green stripes, while the females are typically solid green but may have a few white or pale blue spots.

While we celebrate the arrival of our new Fiji banded iguanas, it’s important to reflect on the challenges that the iguanas face in the wild. The Fiji banded iguanas have declined over 50% in the last few decades and are currently not safe on their island homes. During recent surveys of more than 50 islands where they should have been present, Fiji banded iguanas were only detected on 20% and several local extinctions were confirmed.

There is a continuing loss and degradation of remaining Fiji banded habitats, from deforestation, expansion of human development and cat predation. Without conservation intervention, the degradation observed can cause even further declines over the next 20 years.

Due to the size of Fiji banded iguana offspring, the hatchlings will be observed by the herpetology team behind the scenes. We will keep you updated on when they are large enough and ready to make their public debut.

The Story of Tres

Written by Dr. Ray Ball, Vice President of Medical Sciences & Senior Veterinarian 

What has three bionic legs, leaps into tall trees, lived in ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and now runs in the wild of South Florida?  The only possible answer of course is Tres, the rehabilitated Florida panther.

Tres is a male Florida panther that was hit by a car, actually we believe twice.  He was found along a road with three broken legs, both back legs and his left foreleg.  The FWC biologist and veterinarian rescued him and presented him to the Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples where Dr. Mark Havig made him bionic.  After several hours of surgery, 6 stainless steel plates and 42 screws were placed into Tres broken limbs, he was on his way to Tampa.  He was still not recovered from his surgery when I pulled him out of his travel crate and got him settled in.

Figure 1 Fractured left forelimb on Florida panther Tres and the surgical repair.

Within 24 hours he was up on his feet.  Within 48 hours he was leaping.  He did this for a few days then settled in.  Several days later he started to eat and his recovery really began.

Taking care of wild animals, truly wild animals intended to be returned to the wild, is different than the rest of the animals at the Zoo.  For the wild panthers we want to keep them away from people as much as possible, and in Tres case we really want him to stay quiet and heal.  Fortunately the Katherine Starz Veterinary Hospital has just that capacity and Tres was to call this his home for the next several months.  He would need a couple more surgeries to manage his fractures but he really just needed the opportunity to heal.  It can be a delicate balance when to step in and intervene and when to allow an animal to take care of itself.  Tres told us what he needed and when to leave him alone and we listened.

Once Tres was medically cleared by the team at ZooTampa, he was moved to White Oak Plantation in north Florida to allow him some physical therapy time in a large outdoor enclosure.  He would spend a couple months here regaining the fitness he needed to better his chances at survival.  The team could also make sure he did not become too accustomed to people.  Having a releasable panther at ZooTampa was novel.  In the past we had only managed panthers that were not able to be rehabilitated.  Our approach was a little different but it made sense to us.  Only time would really tell if this would work.

Figure 2 Camera trap photo showing a very healthy looking Tres prior to his release.  His behavior also suggested he was ready to be released.

In February the team encompassing the FWC, White Oaks, and ZooTampa gave Tres one last exam and he was determined to be ready to release.  He was fitted with his radio collar and loaded up for his journey back to south Florida.  The five hour journey allowed him plenty of time to recovery from his exam and at the mid-point when I checked on him he was posed very stately in his travel crate.  He was ready.

In carrying out our mission we encounter numerous events that are extremely fulfilling such as seeing a child smile as the otters play or the birth of a rare animal.  But nothing is quite the same as watching a manatee swim away after weeks in the rehabilitation center and seeing an orphan bear cub run into the woods after you have taken care of it.  Or seeing a Florida panther race away from you, becoming invisible in an instant.  We have learned many things from taking care of Tres and seeing him back in the forest of south Florida will stand out in our memory.  We wish him well.  We also hope to never see him again.

Figure 3 Dr Lara Cusack from FWC releases Tres in south Florida.