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Up-Close Animal Encounters and Feeding Experiences

Upgrade Your Day

Up-Close Animal Encounters & Feeding Experiences

Add amazing moments to your day at ZooTampa with our unforgettable signature animal encounters.

Reserve your spot today — spaces are limited.

KBUG

Know Before You Go

  • ZooTampa admission is required to participate in Signature Encounters. Purchase admission tickets here.
  • ALL guests on Signature Encounters, including children (except those 2 and under where permitted), parents, guardians, care givers, etc. MUST have an Encounter Ticket.
  • AGE REQUIREMENTS VARY BY ENCOUNTER. Please see encounter details to ensure that all members of your party meet the requirements.
  • White Rhino and Elephant encounters utilize a vehicle for guest transportation. Please contact Guest Services if you need accommodations for vehicle loading.
  • Service animals are restricted from entering the Koala, Giant Tortoise, and African Penguin encounter areas. For accessibility resources go here.
  • Tour components are subject to change without notice due to animal, weather, or staff needs.
  • Encounters are only refundable 48 hours prior to your scheduled encounter. For refund inquiries, please contact Guest Services via email or call us at (813) 935-8552 ext 0.

View the Map

Signature Encounters Map

Each Signature Encounter meets at a different location. Please review the map to see where your encounter's meet-up location is.

View the Map

Each Signature Encounter meets at a different location. Please review the map to see where your encounter's meet-up location is.

Download the App

Get real-time walking directions to your encounter meeting location and so much more by downloading our mobile app! Just search "ZooTampa at Lowry Park" in your app store.

A young boy pets the neck of a big wrinkly Aldabra Tortoise at ZooTampa

Giant Tortoise Encounter

Go on habitat and enjoy an up-close interaction with one of our Giant Tortoises!

Encounter Time:

Daily at 10:30 AM

Age Requirements:

Open to all ages

Ticket Requirements:

  • Tickets must be purchased in advance.
  • Participants 2 and under are free and do not require a ticket.
  • Participants 3 and up require a ticket, and children 17 and under must also be accompanied by a paid, participating adult.

Meeting Location:

Meet at the Giant Tortoise habitat in Africa 10 minutes prior to your encounter time.

View Requirements

A young girl poses next to a koala as it sits on a tree branch at ZooTampa

Manatee Critical Care Center Behind-the-scenes Tour

Be a part of ZooTampa’s manatee rescue team! Go behind-the-scenes at our David A Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center to witness the lifesaving work that takes place every day to save sick, injured, and orphaned manatees. Follow the journey of one of our critical patients and learn from our expert animal care team what it takes to rescue, rehabilitate, and eventually release these majestic animals back to Florida waters. From the moment they arrive at ZooTampa through the months, and sometimes years, of treatment and rehabilitation, each manatee has a unique and amazing story of survival.

Encounter Time:

Daily at 1:15 PM

Age Requirements:

Open to ages 5 and up, but recommended for ages 12 and up

Ticket Requirements:

  • Tickets must be purchased in advance.
  • All participants require a ticket, and children ages 5-17 must also be accompanied by a paid, participating adult.

Meeting Location:

Meet at the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center in Florida 10 minutes prior to your encounter time.

View Requirements

Two people pet a White Rhino at ZooTampa

Southern White Rhino Encounter

Have you ever wanted to stare into the eye of a southern white rhino? Now you can on this amazing encounter! Travel into Africa during this one-of-a-kind experience and go behind-the-scenes to meet the dedicated team who care for our “crash” every day while getting nose-to-horn with these critically endangered animals. Afterwards, guests will continue their adventure on a private safari tour and learn more about the animals who call Africa home.

Encounter Time:

Daily at 11:00 AM

Age Requirements:

Open to ages 5 and up

Ticket Requirements:

  • Tickets must be purchased in advance.
  • All participants require a ticket, and children 5-17 must also be accompanied by a paid, participating adult.

Meeting Location:

Meet at the Signature Encounter Meeting Area at the front of the Zoo, near Guest Services, 10 minutes prior to your encounter time.

View Requirements

A boy feeding lettuce to an Indian Rhino at ZooTampa during an up-close encounter

Indian Rhino Feeding

Enjoy an unforgettable experience offering a tasty treat to one of our Indian Rhinos!

Encounter Time:

Daily at 1:45 PM
Saturdays and Sundays at 1:15 PM and 1:45 PM

Age Requirements:

Open to ages 5 and up

Ticket Requirements:

  • Tickets must be purchased in advance.
  • All participants require a ticket, and children 5-17 must also be accompanied by a paid, participating adult.

Meeting Location:

Meet at the Indian Rhino habitat in Asia 10 minutes prior to your encounter time.

View Requirements

A zookeeper reaches up and touches the trunk of an African Elephant

African Elephant Behind-the-scenes Tour

Travel behind-the-scenes to watch an elephant training session and find out how we care for the largest land animal on earth!

Encounter Time:

Daily at 2:30 PM

Age Requirements:

Open to ages 5 and up

Ticket Requirements:

  • Tickets must be purchased in advance.
  • All participants require a ticket, and children 5-17 must also be accompanied by a paid, participating adult.

Meeting Location:

Meet at the Signature Encounter Meeting Area at the front of the Zoo, near Guest Services, 10 minutes prior to your encounter time.

View Requirements

Guests experience African Penguin Signature Encounter at ZooTampa

African Penguin Encounter

Meet a member of our penguin colony and smile for a special photo op!

Encounter Time:

Daily at 12:15 PM and 12:30 PM

Age Requirements:

Open to ages 5 and up

Ticket Requirements:

  • Tickets must be purchased in advance.
  • All participants require a ticket, and children 5-17 must also be accompanied by a paid, participating adult.

Meeting Location:

Meet at the African Penguin habitat in Africa 10 minutes prior to your encounter time.

View Requirements

An African giraffe stands near trees

Giraffe Encounter

Get eye-to-eye with the world’s tallest animal as you participate in a training session with our giraffe family!

Encounter Time:

Thursdays-Sundays at 10:00 AM and 10:15 AM

Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 PM and 1:15 PM

Age Requirements:

Open to ages 5 and up

Ticket Requirements:

  • All participants require a ticket, and children 5-17 must also be accompanied by a paid, participating adult.

Meeting Location:

Meet at the Giraffe Habitat in Africa, by the gate to the overlook, 10 minutes prior to your encounter time.*

*Please note the meet-up location for this encounter has recently been updated.

View Requirements

A young girl poses next to a koala as it sits on a tree branch at ZooTampa

Koala Photo Encounter

presented by the Yob Family Foundation

Enjoy a special meet-and-greet with an adorable marsupial and pose for a “koala-ty” photo!*

Encounter Time:

Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 AM

Age Requirements:

Open to all ages

Ticket Requirements:

  • Tickets must be purchased in advance.
  • All participants 2 and under are free and do not require a ticket.
  • All participants 3 and up require a ticket, and all children 17 and under must also be accompanied by a paid, participating adult.

Meeting Location:

Meet at the Koala habitat in Wallaroo 10 minutes prior to your encounter time.

One photo included with your ticket*

View Requirements

Two colorful lorikeets land on the shoulder of a boy in the lorikeet aviary at ZooTampa

Other Animal Experiences

Lorikeet Landing Aviary

All Ages

Go inside this free-flight aviary with some of the world's most colorful birds. Experience is FREE with your admission, but only available at set times during the day. Check the Lorikeet Aviary for a schedule. Feedings may be available for a nominal fee at the time of your experience. See a team member at the Lorikeet Landing Aviary for more information.

Signature Encounter

Sloth Photo Encounter

All Ages
3 & Up Require a Ticket

Did you know that sloths can spend 90% of their lives upside down? Get up-close to one of our incredible sloths, meet a team member that cares for them every day, and then strike a pose for a photo by a professional photographer!

A sloth smiles as he hangs upside-down from a tree

ZooTampa Animal Encounter Tips & Guidelines

  • Admission is required to participate in Signature Encounters. If you have scheduled a Signature Encounter please purchase your admission ticket if you don’t already have it.
  • Masks are required to be worn by all guests participating in Signature Encounters. If you do not have a mask, one will be provided to you.
  • To ensure safety, participants agree to abide by Zoo safety protocols.
  • Guests may bring a camera; however, there are areas behind-the-scenes which you may be asked not to photograph. Video recording is not permitted behind-the-scenes.
  • Tour components are subject to change without notice due to animal, weather, or staff needs.
  • Service animals are restricted from entering the Koala Photo Encounter area.
  • Encounters are only refundable up to 48 hours in advance of your scheduled Encounter. For refund inquiries please contact our Guest Services team via email or call us at (813) 935-8552 ext 0.

IMPORTANT: Age requirements vary by encounter. See specific encounter for details.

Walk-Up Feeding Experiences

These feeding experiences can be paid for when you arrive at the habitat. No pre-purchase required.

A group of children reach into a pool to pet and feed stingrays as they swim past

Stingray Bay Touch Experience

All Ages

Temporarily Unavailable

Get hand-to-fin with a slippery stingray at this FREE up-close animal experience. Feedings may be available for a fee. See a Team Member at the Stingray Bay gift shop for more information.

Manatee Critical Care Center Backstage Encounter

NEW! Signature Encounter

Manatee Critical Care Center Backstage Encounter

For Guests Ages 5 & Up*

Temporarily Unavailable
Did you know that ZooTampa is home to the first non-profit manatee critical care facility in the US? At our state-of-the-art David A. Straz, Jr. Critical Care Center, we take in sick, injured, and orphaned manatees and provide them with the specialized care they need so they can be re-introduced back to their native waters. On this backstage tour, you'll go behind the scenes to learn more about what it takes to care for and rehabilitate this treasured Florida species. Plus, meet a member of the dedicated team who cares for them each and every day.

*This tour is recommended for ages 12 & up

Secrets of the Zoo Tampa

NEW! Backstage Encounter

Secrets of the Zoo Backstage Encounter

For Guests Ages 5 & Up*

Back by popular demand! Are you a fan of the NatGeo WILD television series, Secrets of the Zoo: Tampa? Season 3 is still under production, but you can get your fix now of the wild behind-the-scenes adventures of the amazing animals that live at ZooTampa and the dedicated team entrusted with their care. Go on an unprecedented tour with one of our “stars” and get exclusive updates on the animals you love. From rhinos to manatees, find out ALL the secrets and spend your morning on an adventure you will not forget.

*Accompanied by paying adult

Dr. Bogan, Director of the Orianne Center

DR BOGAN, DIRECTOR OF THE ORIANNE CENTER

I am the Chief Veterinary Officer for Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens as well as the Director for the Central Florida Zoo’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation.  I am a veterinarian board certified in Reptile and Amphibian Practice and have a veterinary master’s degree in conservation medicine. I am currently the president of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians and the Reptile and Amphibian Regent for the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. I am also the Veterinary Advisor for AZA Eastern Indigo Snake TAG.

Start a new Christmas tradition with Holiday Breakfast with Santa at ZooTampa!

ZooTampa and Christmas in the Wild admission is not included with the Holiday Breakfast with Santa. ZooTampa members and Pay for a Day ticket holders are welcome to explore the Zoo after the event. Need admission to ZooTampa? Click here to purchase Zoo admission or become a Member.

Doors will open at 8:30am and will conclude at 10am. Seating is first-come, first-served. This is a rain or shine event and will take place outdoors under our Saunders Pavilion.

Photos will be available for purchase, but guests are welcome to take photos with their own devices.

For dietary restrictions and other special requests, please contact our Guest Engagement team at GuestEngagement@ZooTampa.org.

Guest must have a Christmas in the Wild ticket to participate in all Holiday Signature Encounters. Holiday African Penguin Encounter will be offered on event nights only at 4:45pm and 5pm. Holiday Indian Rhino Encounter will be offered on event nights only at 6pm. Separate ticket required for all encounters. Guests must be ages 5 and up and children 5-17 must be accompanied by an adult.

Dr Nico Maldonado, Veterinarian ZooTampa

Dr. Nico with a giant tortoise at ZooTampa

Nicolás Maldonado grew up in Puerto Rico, and was raised on his family’s cattle farm surrounded by many animals. In 1997, he came to the United States to attend college at Colorado State University. After college, he went on to fulfill his dream of becoming a veterinarian, earning his DVM at Tuskegee University. Dr. Maldonado then completed a small animal and exotics internship at a veterinary hospital in Georgia, and an avian and exotics residency program at Florida Veterinary Specialists (now Blue Pearl Tampa). He now practices small animal and exotic medicine full-time at a private practice in the Tampa Bay area. He has worked with the veterinary staff at Zoo Tampa since 2011. Dr. Maldonado has a special interest in reptiles and amphibians, and has been involved in breeding programs for the Panamanian Golden Frog and Puerto Rican Crested Toad. His passion is for snakes.

 Over the years, Nicolás has had many pets including dogs, cats, snakes, tarantulas, birds, tropical fish, frogs and tortoises. He has raised and bred various species of birds, frogs, turtles, and snakes. His hobbies include playing guitar, soccer, HAM radio, hiking, biking, skim-boarding, skateboarding, camping with his family, and vacationing in Puerto Rico. 

BUGTOPIA, coming Spring 2023

Something is buzzing in Tampa this Spring. An invasion of epic proportions. Giant larger-than-life BUGS are coming to ZooTampa. Guests will shrink down and be immersed in BUGTOPIA, the fantastic world of animals that slither, crawl, and fly. The family-friendly event will feature 13 species of animatronic bugs that will amaze while educating guests in fun and unique ways. Adventurers will join professor Mo Alexander and his research assistants as they explore the important and fascinating role these tiny creatures have on the preservation of the world we share.