Panther Kittens Make Public Debut at ZooTampa

Adorable ambassadors of their species make their public debut at ZooTampa!

For a limited time, catch a pair of endangered Florida panther kittens during their daily play sessions.


The brothers, named Cypress and Pepper, were rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after their mother suffered from an unknown neurological disorder that is affecting wild populations of panthers and bobcats. The almost 6-month-old kittens have been hand-raised in human care most of their lives, making them unlikely candidates for release back into the wild.

The healthy and energetic duo can be seen playing at ZooTampa daily from 12:30pm-2pm for the next several weeks until a permanent home is identified. Home to 3 other rescued panthers, ZooTampa is a leader in conservation of panthers and other Florida endangered wildlife.

Important information for guests: For a limited time, the kittens can be seen daily from 12:30pm-2pm in their yard in the Wallaroo section of the zoo. Viewing times subject to change without notice. Please check boards at the entrance of the park for details.


Frequently Asked Questions:

Why does ZooTampa have the Florida panther kittens?

As one of the state’s top facilities for the rehabilitation of endangered Florida species, ZooTampa was asked by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to care for and assist in the evaluation of the kittens while the investigation continues into the neurological disorder affecting panthers and bobcats.


When and where can the Florida panther kittens be seen?

Starting Tuesday, December 17 and for the next several weeks, the two Florida panther kittens being cared for by ZooTampa will make their public debut in their play yard located in the Wallaroo section (formerly the singing dog habitat) from 11am-2pm.


Why are there keepers in the habitat?

Due to being hand-raised in human care most of their lives, the almost 6-month old kittens are not candidates for release back into the wild. To ensure their future success in a zoological environment, the animal care team is working with the panthers to establish a trust-based relationship.


How does the animal care team build relationships with the panthers?

The team builds trust-based relations with the panthers by providing choice-based training and enrichment for their physical and mental stimulation. The animals voluntarily participate in their learning ensuring interactions are positive.


Why are they only out for a limited time?

The kittens are primarily being cared for behind-the-scenes. Public viewing times coincide with when the panthers are out on their yard learning with the animal care team.


Where do they live when not in their Wallaroo play yard?

The kittens are primarily being cared for behind-the-scenes at our Catherine Lowry Straz Veterinary Hospital. The team has been able to teach the kittens to voluntarily kennel to travel to their play yard at Wallaroo.


How long are they at ZooTampa?

The kittens will be at ZooTampa for the next several weeks until the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission identifies a permanent home.


Where are they going?

FWC is working to finalize plans on their permanent home.


Why are they not staying at ZooTampa and why are they not with the other panthers?

ZooTampa is already home to three panthers that are unable to survive on their own in the wild due to injury or illness.

Meet our Patients

Manatees are one of Florida’s most recognizable species. Although their closest relative are elephants, they are often referred to as sea cows because they can weigh up to 3,500 pounds (1,590 kg) and eat an herbivorous diet. Manatees live in shallow, calm rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas and can move from fresh to salt water with no problem. Manatee’s biggest threats are humans. Boat strike injuries and entanglements in pollution are some of the main reasons why manatees come to the David A. Straz Manatee Critical Care Center at ZooTampa.

Meet out current patients:



-          Transfer from SeaWorld Orlando- Initial rescue was boat strike- lung injury

-          Rescued from Crystal River in September 2018

-          Female

-          Age is very difficult to estimate with adults- over 10 years at least

-          1200 lbs currently

-          Still under observation/care for her lung injury


-          Transfer from SeaWorld Orlando – Initial rescue was with injured mom – Heinz.  He was still dependent on her at the time of rescue.  Has since weened.

-          Male

-          Under 2 years old approx.

-          Current Weight:  570 lbs

-          Now separated from mom since she is still under observation/critical care and he is old enough to be without her.  He schedule for a tentative release this winter


-          Rescued in 2015 for boat strike

-          He is non releasable due to his lung injury- Is lung is permanently damaged and he cannot control is buoyancy due to that.  He is what we call a sinker and stays at the bottom of the pool.  He is able to get to surface for breaths and food but would be unable to survive in the wild due to those injuries

-          Weight: 625

-          Age:  Under 6 years old


-          Rescued May 8 from Charlotte County – Boat strike, pneumothorax (collapsed lung(s))

-          Age: under 10 years old

-          Weight:  740lbs

-          Still under observation/care but showing signs of improvement


-          Rescued May 8 with injured Mom – Fern

-          Female

-          Age: under 1 years old

-          Current Weight: 305 lbs


-         Rescued from Naples for boat strike, pneumothorax

-          Weight at rescue was 415 lbs

-          Under 2 years old

-          Stable, still under observation but progressing well


-          Rescued as an orphaned calf from Crystal river in Feb 2018

-          Rehabbed by SeaWorld.  Moved to Bishop aquarium to gain weight.  Moved to us due to Bishop aquarium construction

-          Weight on date of rescue 163 lbs

-          Current weight: is 516 lbs

-          He schedule for a tentative release this winter


-          Rescued as an orphaned calf from Crystal river in Feb 2018

-          Rehabbed by SeaWorld.  Moved to Bishop aquarium to gain weight.  Moved to us due to Bishop aquarium construction

-          Weight on date of rescue 190 lbs

-          Current weight: 632 lbs

-          He schedule for a tentative release this winter


-          Rescued from Bradenton, Wares creek on Aug 28th

-          Rehabbed by SeaWorld.  Moved to Bishop aquarium to gain weight.  Moved to us due to Bishop aquarium construction

-          Buoyant on back end, believed to be GI related

-          Currently under close observation and treatment

-          Weight: 1125 lbs



-          Rescued 10-7-2019

-          Rescued from Charlotte County

-          Weighs 380 lbs – about 1 years old

-          Boat strike, pneumothorax

-          Still under treatment


-          Rescued 10-15-2019

-          Rescued from Jenkins Creek, Hernando Beach

-          Weighs 520 lbs – about 2 years old

-          Boat strike, pneumothorax

-          Still under treatment

The David A. Straz Manatee Critical Care Center is at the forefront in the care and conservation of manatees. As one of only four manatee critical care and rehabilitation centers in the United States, ZooTampa has cared for more than 400 injured, sick and orphaned manatees. A dedicated team of animal care and veterinary staff tend to the manatees 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with the goal of releasing them back into Florida waters. Each visit helps us on our mission to preserve and protect wildlife.

Howling for a cause

Howling for a cause - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Written By: Jaime Vaccaro

Red wolves are a critically endangered species that once inhabited the entire Southeastern United States including Florida. Red wolf populations were decimated in the early part of the 20th century due to habitat loss, predator control programs, and hybridization with coyotes. By the late 1960's, their numbers were so low that only a small population remained in Louisiana and Texas. Fourteen of these remaining Red wolves, known as the "founders" were brought to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma Washington to start the Red wolf recovery program.


ZooTampa, alongside 40 other zoos and facilities, are part of this conservation effort and collectively care for over 250 Red wolves. Due to this partnership and dedication to the species, Red wolves, that were once declared extinct in the wild, had flourished in managed care and several pairs were released into the wild in 1987. The release site is known as the Alligator National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. This site, along with St. Vincent's Island, are the only two areas to see Red wolves in the wild today. Being critically endangered, the wild population is estimated to be around 25 individuals.



Red wolves are known for being reclusive and shy, with varied colorations making them almost invisible in their natural environment. These wolves form small family packs with just a male, female and their pups. ZooTampa currently houses five Red wolves, mom Yona (5 years of age) and her litter of four pups born in April 2018: Yulee, Redington, Conner, and Boca. Boca is the only female pup and easily recognized by her floppy right ear. ZooTampa is part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Red wolves, which helps ensure the survival of this species and promotes conservation efforts. Family groups tend to stay together for up to two years, at which point, the litter of pups go off on their own to find a mate. As our wolf family grows, the SSP will make recommendations of placement that best help the conservation of the species.


To see our Red wolf family, stop by their renovated habitat. With large viewing windows, guests have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of these incredible animals. See them up close at 945am daily during the Red wolf keeper chat. You can also symbolically adopt a red wolf here.

International Sloth Day

Written by Katherine Burton, Animal Care Professional

Today is International Sloth Day!

In honor of the holiday, I invite you to learn more about this interesting mammal. Did you know there are two types of sloth? That’s right! The two-toed sloth and three-toed sloth are identified by the number of toes on their front feet. Six species of sloth make up those categories: Pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus), Maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus), Pale-throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus), Brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus), Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus), and the Hoffman’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni).

All species of sloth are found in Central and South America and spend their lives up in the trees. Even though not all sloth species are listed as endangered, all are dependent upon the forest for survival and are affected by deforestation. The tree canopy is a source of shelter, camouflage, and food.

The word sloth typically conjures an image of the animal sleeping or slowly moving while hanging from a tree branch. It's true! Sloths hang on to trees with their long claws, can sleep up to 20 hours a day, and they move at a leisurely pace due to their slow metabolism. During their waking hours they will eat various plant material such as leave, flowers, or fruit which can take days for them to digest. When they make their weekly journey to the ground to “go to the bathroom” they become exposed to natural predators such as large cats or birds of prey.

Protecting sloths is tied to protecting the rain forest. Without it, they can’t survive. Simple actions such as making sure wood or wood products come from sustainable sourced companies, can go a long way in helping this species. You can also visit ZooTampa to help support conservation initiatives all over the world. While you’re here you can look for our Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth in the aviary!

Best Instagram Spots at ZooTampa presented by Metro by T-Mobile

Making memories while connecting to wildlife and each other is frequently stated as a top reason why families love to visit ZooTampa.  Now, in a partnership with Metro by T-Mobile, guests can relive their favorite memories with select "picture perfect" spots located throughout the Zoo.  The Best Instagram Spots at ZooTampa guarantees families and fans have no guesswork when selecting their ideal picture locations. We're delighted to offer this perk to our guests through our continued partnership with Metro by T-Mobile.

Following are the Best Instagram Spots at ZooTampa presented by Metro by T-Mobile. Visitors can tag #ZooTampa for a chance to have their post shared on the Zoo’s Instagram story.

  • Africa- Jasmine Doors
  • Asia- Komodo dragon statue
  • Florida- Birds of Prey wingspan
  • Primates- Orangutan habitat
  • Wallaroo- Petting Zoo

We encourage guests to discover amazing wildlife moments at ZooTampa and share them with family and friends around the globe!

Save the Koala Day

Written By: Amanda Powers

Sometimes being social can be exhausting- especially if you are a koala! With a daily schedule that includes 20 hours of sleep and 4 hours of browsing on eucalyptus, it’s hard to find time to pencil in date night. In fact, some research shows that koalas spend only 15 minutes a day in social activity- talk about speed dating! In all seriousness, koalas are fascinating creatures with many interesting and unique characteristics, and we are lucky enough to have 3 here at ZooTampa!

Interested in learning some koala-ties of our koala pair?

Heathcliff is the male koala. He is 6 years old and arrived to ZooTampa in March of 2014. He is pretty laid back, goes with the flow, and let’s his girlfriend get her way a lot. Ceduna is the female koala; she is 5 years old and arrived here in April of 2015. She is definitely the sassy one and will let everyone (mostly Heathcliff) know if she hungry, sleepy, or in any mood that may warrant attention. As mentioned earlier, koala are not overly gregarious animals, however you may see Heathcliff and Ceduna interacting, typically in their outdoor habitat.

Are you ready for some more koala-tative koala facts?

Queensland koalas (they kind we have at Zootampa) are found in northern Australia and live solely in forests dominated by eucalyptus. It is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 300,000 individuals in this area, but habitat loss has rendered them vulnerable to extinction. Koalas are territorial animals, but territories generally overlap. There are residents who stay in the same territory and transients who move throughout. Males and females communicate using deep bellowing calls and scent marking. Despite having an adorable appearance, male koalas can be fiercely competitive and aggressive during breeding season (December-March).

Koalas, like wallabies, are marsupials. A marsupial is a mammal that is born after a short gestation but then moves to its mother’s pouch to develop more. A koala baby, called a joey, is born only 30-35 days after being conceived. They are blind, hairless, and look a little bit like a pink jellybean! The joey has quite a journey after birth, navigating from the birth canal, through the mother’s fur, and into her pouch opening. After the joey makes its way into the mother’s pouch, it latches on to her teat which swells in its mouth to help keep it safely secured inside. The joey stays safely inside for the first few months of its life, drinking only its mother’s milk. At about 6 months of age, the Joey may start poking its head out of the pouch, but it starts to fully leave the pouch for short periods of time at 7 months. At this point you may see the joey riding on the mother’s belly or back, though it still returns to the pouch to drink milk. It will start eating some leaves at this point but will continue to nurse until it is too big to fit in the pouch. A joey is usually self-sufficient between 1-2 years of age, typically when its mother’s is ready to have her next joey.

Heathcliff and Ceduana just had their very first joey- a baby boy named Sydney! It is difficult to assess the exact birth date in koalas, but we are estimating that Syd was born around December 20, 2018. He is growing like a weed and is starting to become more adventurous every day. He has yet to fully leave Ceduna and explore on his own, but he is getting more and more curious. He is officially too big to fit all the way in his mom’s pouch! He still nurses but is eating lots of eucalyptus. We are excited to watch him grow and reach new developmental milestones, and we are excited that he is finally easy for guests to see in the koala habitat. It is VERY hard for all of us to get any work done, because he is just too cute!!!

Now that you’re a koala-fied expert, head over to Walaroo for a visit!

Come get an up close photo encounter with Mr. Heathcliff during our new koala experience. It is offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:o0 am.

World Rhino Day

Happy World Rhino Day, Zoo friends! ZooTampa is home to two rhinos species, the Southern white rhino and the Greater one-horn rhino also known as the Indian rhino.

World Rhino Day - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Southern White Rhinos:

Written by: Christi Reiter

We have 6 white rhinos currently living at ZooTampa. They are the only rhino species that have broad flat lips that they use to pull grasses and low lying shrubs out of the ground. These guys are considered the lawn mowers of the African savanna and they can eat upwards of 100 pounds of food a day. Just think of our grocery bill! Rhinos have two large horns on the front of their faces which are made from keratin. This is the same material as your hair and finger nails! Due to this material, the horn can be molded and shaped however the rhino chooses. If you come visit our crash, you will see each of our rhinos has their own unique horn that they shape on objects throughout the yard such as logs, the ground, or rhino sized toys. They have their own styles - just like you and I!

Ongava is our large male who enjoys scratches from animal staff and getting muddy in wallows around the yard. We have 3 adult females, Kidogo, Fujo, and Alake, who all have different personalities but all enjoy getting snacks, attention, and new toys! Our two young rhinos, Kipenzi (3) and Amare (1) just celebrated a shared birthday on September 12th. We gave them extra special goodies and we made sure to sing happy birthday when they came out in the yard.

Greater One-Horned Rhinos:

Written by: Jenny Bell

ZooTampa is also home to two Greater One-Horned (or “Indian”) rhinoceroses, Johnny and Jamie.  Greater One-Horned (GOH) rhinos are called this because they only have one horn, making them true, living unicorns!  The largest of the rhino species, GOHs can reach heights of just over 6 feet tall and typically weigh between 4-6,000 lbs. While visiting, you may notice that our GOH rhinos look like they are covered in plates of armor. This thick skin provides protection for them, but they still have a lot of nerve endings and blood vessels near the surface that help them maintain a constant body temperature.

Living in primarily swamps and forested areas, Greater One-Horned rhinos have several adaptations that make surviving in this environment easier. They have semi-prehensile top lips that are pure muscle, and help them grasp leaves and fruits that grow on trees.  Johnny and Jamie often use those lips to make sure they don’t drop any tasty snacks during feeding time!  Greater One-Horned rhinos are also semi-aquatic and are great swimmers. You can often find Johnny enjoying his pool during the heat of the day. Our female, Jamie, prefers to “wallow” instead and take mud baths that protect her skin from bugs and the sun. Much like our fingernails after a lot of time in the water, the keratin in rhino horn softens from all that soaking. This makes it much easier for GOH rhinos to “manicure” their own horns, and they often tend to keep them much shorter than other species.

In the early twentieth century it was estimated that only 200 Greater One-Horned rhinos remained in their native habitat. Luckily, Indian and Nepalese governments and wildlife authorities banded together to increase protection of this amazing and unique animal. There are now about 3,500 GOH rhinos, making them the only species to be increasing in number!  All rhino species need our protection, but the GOH rhino’s story can give us hope that positive change can happen.

World Rhino Day - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

You can visit both rhino species during an Up-Close Signature encounter! In honor of #WorldRhinoDay, symbolically adopt a rhino here.

Lowland Nyala

Written by: Blayne Selley

The first thing most people notice about Lowland Nyala is their striking red coat embellished with white stripes. Nyala’s stripes act as camouflage and are actually their best form of protection against predators like African painted dogs, hyenas, and leopards. These stripes mimic the sunlight peeking through the South African forests and riverbank thickets that nyala call home. Not only do the forests provide camouflage for nyala, but they also provide a balanced diet. Nyala are unique because they are both grazers and browsers, meaning they snack on both the grasses on the ground and the leaves, seeds, and fruits on the trees. Nyala can find food in a wide variety of locations and landscapes, making it easy for them to relocate and aiding in their year-round survival.

Another notable characteristic of nyala is their sexual dimorphism. This means that the males and females look completely different from one another. While the females display a beautiful copper-colored coat, the males feature a shaggy, gray coat and large spiral horns. The males are much larger than the females and are usually solitary, while the females stay in small herds. Both male and female nyala have large, bushy tails with a white underside. Nyala can flash this white underside of their tails as a warning sign to other members of their herd when danger is near. Nyala can also be heard communicating through vocalization that sounds very similar to a dog’s bark!

ZooTampa’s Africa section is home to a herd of six female and one male nyala. Recently, a new calf joined the herd – Miss Ohana! Ohana’s mom, Sahara, protects her by stashing her away in the bushes or low-lying trees, where she will spend most of her time for the first few weeks of her life. While it might be hard to spot Ohana for a while, the rest of the herd can be seen wandering around investigating new items, munching on leaves and grasses, and enjoying the shade of nearby trees.

Keep an eye out for these masters of disguise on your next visit to Africa! You can symbolically adopt a nyala here.

Lowland Nyala - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Lowland Nyala - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Fall Events

Summer was an exciting time at ZooTampa! After spending seven months in mom’s pouch, we officially got a full glimpse of Tampa’s newest furry resident, a healthy koala “joey”. The boy, named Sydney, is the first koala born at the Zoo and is part of our effort to conserve koalas through the Species Survival Plan. We also launched a new giraffe “meet and greet” experience that not only brings our guests eye-to-eye with the world’s tallest animal but also offers a unique opportunity to participate in a training session with one of our Animal Care professionals! These experiences highlight our mission to connect our guests with amazing animals that moves them to preserve and protect wildlife.

Looking ahead to autumn, the fun and adventures do not slow down. In September, we open our doors to members of The Florida Aquarium and MOSI as SWAPtember returns. This special benefit allows members of all three Tampa attractions to ‘swap’ memberships and experience all of the fun each has to offer! On the 21st of the month, we are proud to host the inaugural ZooTampa IRONKIDS presented by AdventHealth. The family event gives young athletes the thrill and excitement of competition while enjoying up-close interactions with some of the Zoo’s iconic animals.

Meanwhile, we‘ve started the transformation of the Zoo into Tampa Bay’s number one Halloween eerie family fright fest. The critically acclaimed Creatures of the Night returns on Fridays and Saturdays in October with more spooky scares and creepy frights for ghouls and goblins of all ages. The Zoo stays open late as a colorful cast of spooky characters, fearsome animals and immersive Halloween adventure zones take over to provide unforgettable eerie frights for the whole family. Unlike other Halloween events in the Tampa Bay area, ours is truly family-focused with just enough delightfully spooky and lighthearted startles to keep everyone laughing and entertained.

As we approach the end of the year, we look forward to the opening of the Sandy and Tom Callahan Center for Wildlife Conservation which will give guests a glimpse into the work we do to rescue, rehabilitate and care for animals from Florida and around the world. And, the year would not be complete without the return of one of Tampa’s most beloved holiday traditions, ZooTampa’s Christmas in the Wild. The event immerses guests into a world of seasonal cheer designed to create lasting holiday memories for the whole family.

It’s been a true “wild” year for us at ZooTampa and I remain grateful for the dedication of our team and enthusiastic support of our members and guests. I invite you to visit soon for memorable connections with wildlife and each other!


Joe Couceiro

President & CEO


National Iguana Awareness Day

National Iguana Awareness Day - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Written By: Spencer Shultz

The Cuban iguana, like many lizards, are strong climbers with sharp claws and powerful legs.  This medium to large species, can grow up to 5 feet in length and weigh up to 7 kg (15lbs). Cuban iguanas have a dewlap which is an extra flap of skin below the chin on the neck that helps with temperature control and to attract the opposite sex.

Known by various names, including Cuban rock iguana and clouded rock iguana, these iguanas are native to Cuba and the Cayman Islands. They have also been introduced and found in Puerto Rico. While not endangered, Cuban iguanas suffer from habitat loss and predation by cats, dogs and pigs.

Our resident Cuban iguana arrived after he unintentionally boarded a ship entering the United States from Cuba. The animal exited the ship upon arrival in Florida and was found by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and taken to a local partner facility.  Shortly after, the USFWS asked us to provide him with a permanent home.

To ensure a smooth transition to his new habitat, our team of animal care professionals worked with him using positive reinforcement training. Through this technique, our team rewarded him with special fruit treats when he remained calm. Over the past several months, he has gotten much more comfortable and will even let his keepers use tactile reinforcement, mainly a back scratcher, to bond with him. The bonding helps animal care staff move him comfortably from area to area when the habitat needs to be cleaned.  In the future, the development of this bond between the Cuban iguana and animal care staff will aid in conducting medical health check-ups with minimal stress or intervention. You can visit our Cuban iguana in his brand new habitat, found in Manatee Mangrove.