ZT Saves: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Through our ZT Saves initiatives, your Zoo plays an active role in protecting and preserving wildlife both in our backyard and around the globe. Despite the challenges that faced our community and the world at large last year, conservation remained a central focus for the Zoo in 2021.

Our work with manatees became more important than ever as state wildlife officials reported a record-breaking number of annual deaths. The David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center reached a milestone of 500 patients since its opening in the early 1990s, and our team assisted Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 21 manatee rescues.

An increased emphasis on sustainability led to the formation of local partnerships that allowed us to expand our composting efforts and host electronics-recycling drives, and a partnership with an international corporation resulting in the replacement of single-use paper cups with reusable, recyclable aluminum cups.

On the global front, the Zoo contributed $20,000 to international conservation programs focused on African elephants, painted dogs, Bornean orangutans and other species on the verge of extinction.

“Our achievements over the past 12 months embody the mission that drives everything we do at the Zoo,” said Tiffany Burns, the Zoo’s director of conservation, research and behavior. “Our plans for 2022 are equally ambitious and will deepen the Zoo’s positive impact on wildlife around the world.”

Keep your eyes on our blog in the coming months to learn what’s next for ZT Saves!


A New Home for Eastern Indigo Snakes

Our eastern indigo snakes have slithered their way into a new behind-the-scenes habitat designed to encourage breeding behavior for this imperiled species. Tucked behind the Sulawesi aviary, this four-stall structure replaces the previous breeding habitat, which had only two stalls and lacked vertical space for perching.

Eastern indigo snakes are solitary animals, and each individual has his or her own stall when they are not breeding. In the coming weeks and months, the snakes will be paired based on Species Survival Plan recommendations. Animal care professionals will closely monitor the reptiles’ behavior to ensure they are a match.

Buried in each stall is a cooler connected to a plastic pipe meant to simulate a gopher tortoise burrow, which eastern indigo snakes naturally use to lay their eggs and seek refuge on chilly days. These snakes are among more than 300 native animal species that utilize gopher tortoise burrows, which can be up to 52 feet long and 23 feet deep.

Animal care professionals will periodically check the coolers for eggs and, if any are found, they will be placed in an incubator to maximize the chances of hatching.

Found throughout Florida and the southern regions of neighboring states, the eastern indigo snake is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act due to habitat loss. In 2018, five snakes cared for by ZooTampa were released in a protected area in southern Alabama through a partnership with the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation and other conservation organizations.

This project was made possible by a gift from Bob Bunting and Beverly Blucher. Keep an eye on our social media channels for updates on the snakes!

International Sloth Day 2020

International Sloth Day

Many people know that the adjective “sloth” means very lazy, but are the creatures that bear the same name lazy or just misunderstood?

Today is International Sloth Day, and we want to show you that while sloths are slow, they aren’t lazy. Here are a few things you may not have known about the leisurely lives of sloths.

Slow and Steady

Not only do sloths move extremely slow, but so does their metabolism. A sloth’s sluggish metabolism is one reason why they don’t move very quickly, preserving energy for digestion. Passing through multiple chambers in the stomach, a sloth’s digestive process can take around a month from the initial ingestion of a sloth’s meal to final excretions. This also means they have one of the slowest digestion rates of any mammal!

Life in the Trees

Sloths are arboreal animals, which means that they live in the trees. They reside throughout the trees in Central America and north of the Amazon River in South America. With trees offering them ample protection from predators, sloths spend their entire lives above the ground except when giving birth or defecating.

Avoiding Predators

By only leaving the trees around once every 5 days to defecate, sloths protect themselves from being noticed by predators. Their only form of self-defense is camouflage, so they have to be extremely slow to avoid the hungry gaze of predators.

3-toed sloths even have extra neck vertebrae that allow their heads to turn without moving their bodies!

The most threatening predators to sloths in the wild are big cats like jaguars or snakes; however, habitat destruction is the most prominent human-imposed threat. Sloths have also been known to be hit by moving cars.

Conservation Efforts

Though all but Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth are considered Least Concern by IUCN, we still have to take precautions to ensure they stay that way.International Sloth Day 2020 - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

If you want to help protect sloths, look for the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on your grocery store goods like coffee, chocolate, or bananas. You can also look for responsibly-sourced lumber and wood products to ensure you aren’t buying products that contribute to deforestation and the destruction of sloths’ natural habitats.

Check out more about Rainforest Alliance’s mission and how this little green tree frog represents sustainability here.

You can also visit ZooTampa’s Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth in the main aviary to get a first-hand view of life as a sloth! Your visits to ZooTampa allow us to continue our conservation efforts and care of magnificent animals like the sloth.

Howl about those Red Wolves

Red Wolf

Of all the endangered species that call ZooTampa home, none is rarer than the Red Wolf. Declared extinct in the wild in 1980, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) began the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan to help increase genetic diversity and population numbers.

With a wild population found only in a small subsection of North Carolina where their numbers are estimated at less than 30 individuals, they are extremely endangered. Without the Species Survival Program and close wild observation, they will once again be at risk for wild extinction.

Our hope is for our red wolves at ZooTampa to be a part of the breeding process one day themselves, and contribute to the population.
Meet the Wolves
The 3 red wolf brothers we have here at ZooTampa are named Yule (pronounced Yu-lee), Redington, and Connor. Like any dog, they love to nap and can usually be found snoozing in their den, the three of them are most active in the morning and can occasionally be heard vocalizing together.

As carnivores, these guys only eat meat. Like you would expect of any wild wolf, they enjoy rabbits, birds, and other prey animals.

Of the 3, guests of ZooTampa can usually get a great look at Yule because he’s the bravest of the bunch. If you want to tell him apart from his brothers, he has the largest and widest head. If he’s not napping in their den, you may even find him relaxing close to the glass viewing area of their enclosure. Redington and Connor are also pretty easy to tell apart because Connor is the smallest of the 3 boys and Redington has a more elongated head than Yule.

While most of the animals at ZooTampa get training and enrichment to keep them on their toes, the red wolves get very minimal human interaction. This is because their animal caretakers want to keep them as close to their wild roots as possible.

As an extremely endangered species, the continued protection and preservation of Red Wolves is essential to their survival as a species. If you want to help protect Red Wolves like Yule, Redington, and Connor, you can do a couple of things.

First, visit the Zoo! Your support helps us provide the care they need to survive and spread awareness about the conditions of their remaining wild habitat.

Though extremely unlikely, if you come to see a red wolf in the wild, keep your distance and report sightings to redwolf@fws.gov.

World Migratory Bird Day

World Migratory Bird Day - ZooTampa at Lowry ParkWorld Migratory Bird Day - ZooTampa at Lowry ParkWorld Migratory Bird Day - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

October 10th is World Migratory Bird Day, a day dedicated to migrating species of birds across the globe. Birds provide vital services to our environment, from seed distribution to pollination to pest control. Without our respect for and protection of this animal, many essential functions of natural habitats would not flourish.

In Florida, we see our fair share of migratory birds as they “fly south for the winter”. Ducks, geese, and cranes are all examples of migratory birds.

If you want to find out how you can contribute to the conservation of migratory birds, here are 3 ways you can help.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
One of the most common threats to birds is plastic. If it’s made of plastic, it has most likely found its way into Florida waterways at some point in time. Unfortunately, birds often eat plastic when looking for food, or become entangled in it and trapped.

You can help birds by reducing your use of single-use plastic and always recycling plastic trash. Also, make sure to stay updated on local recycling rules and regulations for your area.
Keep an Eye on Your Pets
Domestic cats and dogs kill over 2 billion birds a year. By leashing your pet outside, you can ensure that they don’t harm native or migratory bird species.

If you do come across an injured bird, notify your local FWC Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators for further information.
Watch When Driving
Car collisions cause between 89 million and 340 million bird deaths a year. To protect birds from cars, always drive carefully and watch for low flying birds.

Some birds are more prone to being hit by cars such as seabirds, owls, and ducks. Always be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to birds in the road.
ZooTampa’s Migratory Birds
You can witness ZooTampa’s migratory birds up-close in our aviaries, flamingo habitat, and at our sandhill crane habitat!

Located on the Florida boardwalk, our sandhill crane habitat is home to 2 of this native Florida species. Flamingos, also located in the Florida area of the park, are one of many species protected under the Migratory Bird Act.

Migratory birds are located all around our park and are an essential part of Florida’s and our country’s ecosystem. Protecting these birds for years to come is critical to ZooTampa’s mission for animal protection, preservation, and conservation.

National Iguana Awareness Day

An iguana is a large species of lizard, and they come in all shapes and sizes! Did you know there are approximately 35 species of iguana? These different species make their home in habitats like rocks or trees.

These large lizards can be found anywhere from northern Mexico and the southern United States, to South America and its surrounding islands. There are even iguanas like the Galapagos Marine Iguana, found off the coast of Ecuador, that can swim underwater!

Introduced to Florida in the 1960s, iguanas have since become quite comfortable here. The humid and often extremely warm climate helps to keep their body at an ideal temperature. Most iguanas must be between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit at any given time.

However, southern Florida’s occasional cold weather can put iguanas into a state of hibernation. As cold-blooded reptiles, also known as ectothermic animals, they need heat from the sun to stay warm.

For a lizard, these reptiles can get pretty big. Iguanas can grow anywhere from 7.5 inches for the Fiji Banded Iguana to a whopping 7 feet long for larger species like the common green iguana. Fiji Iguanas are typically only found on the small island of Fiji in the South Pacific Ocean, but you can see one of these special little lizards in our Manatee Tunnel.

While you’re there, be sure to check out some of our other star species like the Florida Manatee and Sandwich, our Cuban Iguana.

Though the Green Iguana is thriving, several species such as the blue iguana and Cuban rock iguana are endangered. As its name suggests, the Cuban Iguana originates from the rocky coast of Cuba. Habitat destruction and invasive species have threatened their survival.

Thankfully, recent efforts to protect the population have been successful and their numbers are growing. If you want to get an up-close look at one of these guys, you can also find Sandwich, ZooTampa’s very own Cuban iguana in the Manatee tunnel.

Sandwich, a stowaway on a boat departing from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found his home here at ZooTampa when he was rescued by United States Fish and Wildlife Services. Unable to return home or live on his own in Florida, ZooTampa established a permanent home for him in
2015, only a few months after he hitched a ride over.

You can usually find Sandwich hanging out on the tallest branches in his habitat, basking in the heat, or on the ground munching on leafy greens. Get to know more about Sandwich before you visit us here at ZooTampa! You can also meet him on Season 2 Episode 4 of the series, Secrets of the Zoo: Tampa, on Nat Geo WILD.

Manatees and Boat Strikes

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s semiannual report, boat strike injuries are the leading cause of death for Florida manatees so far this year. As a leader in Florida wildlife care, our team at ZooTampa is committed to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of this iconic Florida species.

Our David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center is one of only four manatee critical care centers for manatees in the United States.  Our dedicated staff work vigorously each day with our manatee patients with the hope of releasing these gentle sea cows back into Florida waters.

We encourage you to join us in our mission to protect manatees in the wild by being mindful while boating and following these tips:

  1. Have someone designated as a “manatee lookout” on your boat
  2. Look for “footprints” left in the water by manatees (those circle patterns left on the water’s surface)
  3. Wear polarized sunglasses to better see manatees underwater
  4. Never give a manatee food OR water, as it teaches them to seek out human interaction
  5. Last but not least: GO SLOW in manatee zones and in shallow water, following all posted signs


Indigo Snake Release

Written By: Spencer Schultz

The Indigo is a beautiful black snake that has an iridescent blueish tint in the sun and a brown or orange chin. The Indigo, which often seeks shelter in Gopher tortoise burrows, can grow to between 8 and 9 feet long, and is the longest native snake in the U.S. The Indigo’s historic range included the southernmost tip of South Carolina, west through southern Georgia, Alabama, into eastern Mississippi, and throughout Florida. Today their range is far more restricted and this species is both state and federally listed as “threatened” due to habitat loss and habitat fragmentation.

In April we released 5 indigos snakes into the Alabama Conecuh National Forest as part of the indigo species recovery efforts spearheaded by Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC), and in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource, and the Conecuh Park Rangers. These snakes were part of the head start program, bred and hatched at the OCIC and then cared for at ZooTampa until they reached the appropriate size for release.  This season OCIC has passed an important half way point for their project goal of releasing 300 snakes. The site these snakes were release at is a historic site where these snakes have not been sighted since the 1950’s (before the OCIC project started).

My colleague Tyson and I, searched for Gopher tortoise burrows to release the snakes. Gopher tortoise burrows can be shelters to over 360 different species, making them a keystone species that help protect many others including the Indigo snakes. Gopher tortoise burrows are a natural shelter, they act as a home base for indigo snakes where they can hide from harsh weather and even find a meal in.

Once we found a gopher tortoise burrow, Tyson and I gently released the snake and watched it travel to its new home. It was bittersweet, we were sad to see it go, but ecstatic to know they’ll live on and contribute to the growth of the indigo snake population.

Indigo snakes feed on a variety of small animals, including many species that are considered pest species, like rats and mice. They are also venomous snake eaters and help keep populations of copperheads in check. This makes them an apex or top predator that is necessary for a healthy and balanced ecosystem. In other words, they are important to the environment.

What can you do to help?

  1. If you see them in your yard, leave them be. These snakes are non-venomous and act as a natural pest control, they can even get rid of venomous snakes.
  2. Visit ZooTampa! Each ticket and donation helps us in our mission to preserve and protect wildlife.
  3. Learn about the OCIC’s snake conservation initiatives.

The eastern indigo snake reintroduction project at Conecuh National Forest led by Auburn University is in its 13th year. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have provided funding over the course of the project through the State Wildlife Grants program. The US Forest Service manages the longleaf pine forest ecosystem with prescribed ecological fires.  Snakes for release are being bred at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation, a facility of the Central Florida Zoo and the Orianne Society.

Indigo Snake Release - ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Indigo Snake Release - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Plastic Free July

Written by: Katie Murray

Environmental experts estimate there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently in our ocean, with millions of tons coming from land every year. Plastic never truly degrades in the ocean, but instead continues to break down into smaller and smaller pieces that continue to add up. With Americans using an estimated 500 million plastic straws and 100 billion plastic bags each year, this is a huge problem. Disposable plastic items such as these easily end up in the ocean, where they have devastating effects on marine life. Reducing usage of all single-use plastics is a critical first step in keeping plastic out of the ocean. This is why employees here at ZooTampa are participating in the Zoos and Aquariums Plastic Free EcoChallenge and encourage YOU to join us!

The goal of the challenge is to raise awareness of the issues surrounding single-use plastic. While you can go completely plastic free, you are also encouraged to pick a few small changes you would like to make to your normal day-to-day life and log them on your EcoChallenge dashboard.

Some common lifestyle changes include:

  1. Refusing a plastic straw
  2. Bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store
  3. Using a reusable mug instead of to-go cups

Some people who already incorporate these into their everyday lives can choose to go a bit further and choose to do things like:

  1. Using bar shampoo to avoid plastic bottles,
  2. Writing to an official about reducing single-use plastic in your area
  3. Bringing a reusable container for leftovers after visiting a restaurant.

You pick the actions you’re willing to take and log them any day. There are no penalties for not participating in an action (say, if you forget your bags on your grocery trip), you simply miss out on gaining points for that day.

In 2018, ZooTampa placed 9th out of 54 teams. This year, we are aiming even higher and can use YOUR help to get there! Visit: https://plasticfree.ecochallenge.org/dashboards/teams/zootampa-friends and click “JOIN THIS TEAM”. From there you will be prompted to enter your information. Then, you will be a part of the ZooTampa organization in the ZooTampa Friends team, and will be able to choose the actions you’d like to take and start earning points starting July 1st. The ZooTampa friend with the most points by 9:00am on August 1, 2019 will receive a FREE penguin painting!* We look forward to working with you to keep plastics out of the environment!


* The penguin painting prize is being offered as a community engagement incentive for ZooTampa at Lowry Park, a not for profit, 501(c)(3) charitable organization, with a company address of 1101 W. Sligh Ave., Tampa, FL 33604. Eligibility is limited to adults residing in Florida ages 18 and up.  To enter, simply join the “ZooTampa Friends” team on the Plastic Free EcoChallenge website: https://plasticfree.ecochallenge.org/.  No purchase or contribution is required. The following are ineligible to win: non-Florida residents, employees, contractors and volunteers of ZooTampa, persons under the age of 18. The winner of the penguin painting will be based on number of points earned on the Dashboard during the EcoChallenge, with the highest point-earner being deemed the “winner”. In the event of a tie, ZooTampa reserves the right to award prized to all tied entrants, or to conduct a drawing of the tied entrants to award the prize.  ZooTampa reserves the right to make changes in the rules of the contest, including, without limitation, the substitution of a prize of equivalent value, which will become effective upon announcement or posting.  Winner agrees to allow ZooTampa to publicize participant and winner names in conjunction with the contest.  Tax consequences, if any, are the responsibility of the recipient. The prize is to be awarded/announced on August 1st, 2019. No cash value.

Inca Tern Chicks

Inca Tern Chicks - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Spring was in the air for our Inca tern colony! Back in April, our two pairs of Inca terns had a total of three chicks- two males and one female! The male chicks are named “Lemmy” and “Sushie” and the female chick is named after one of our Human Resource Team Members, Candy Caldwell (“CeeCee” for short) as a thank you for all her help with observing them during their development! The chicks are now starting to fledge, or learning to become independent from their parents and learning to fly.

Inca terns are medium-sized sea birds that are related to gulls, terns, and auks.  Adult Inca terns are mostly grey, with red-orange beaks and feet. One of the most striking characteristics of the Inca tern is their mustache! The white mustaches that are on each side of their beak are actually made of feathers and signify maturity in adults. The chicks lack the white mustaches and will start developing them closer to two years of age, along with changing from a purple-brown color to grey.

The Inca terns are a colonial species which form large flocks of up to 5,000 birds when feeding! Inca terns are found on the coastlines of Peru and Chile, restricted to the Humboldt Current.  The terns usually nest on rock cliffs, in burrows, caves, cavities, and even use old Humboldt penguin nests- they’re not too picky! When nesting, the adult female will lay one or two eggs and both parents will take turns incubating for about 24-27 days.

At ZooTampa, we made special nest boxes for them to lay their eggs and feel comfortable raising their chicks.  While not endangered, the Inca tern is listed as near threatened due to overfishing of their favorite fish. ZooTampa also participates in the Inca tern Species Survival Plan to ensure the survival of this unique species. You can spot the Inca tern families in our Main Aviary!