Okay, right on with Florida and the beautiful Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park! By this point the conference and work part of our trip were over, so we rented a car and were free to travel around a little 🙂
Homosassa Springs is about an hour and a half from Orlando, and a really pretty drive. It’s also one of the best places to view Manatees, which I was extremely excited about!
The visit to the park started strong – there is a free boat ride over from the entrance to the main park through the waterways which are just flat out gorgeous. The waterways are full of alligators though, so Rob spend a little time intimidating the alligator ornaments in the entrance to get psyched up:
The boat basically floats along with the tiniest bit of forward force, so the water stays wonderfully smooth. It was very serene, we were nicely warm and sleepy immediately and almost did not want to get off the boat…
However as with all things in Florida we had to get off eventually so that we didn’t overheat completely! More ice cream, and off we went 🙂
As well as tasty snacks we also had the allure of the actual park, which is essentially a wildlife park for injured animals that can no longer live in the wild. So it’s a little like a zoo, but the animals aren’t really enclosed (except for the crocodiles, thank goodness). Injured animals that are found throughout the state and are in need long term rehabilitation will be given to one of the local parks throughout Florida, as will any animals that have been overly domesticated to the point where they can’t really survive in the wild.
The Florida State Parks try and keep things as close to the real Florida as possible so any injured exotic animals will be re-homed elsewhere, but they made an exception for our first lovely friend – Lu the Hippo! Seen here floating about lazily before coming up to see if we have food 😀
The pictures don’t really capture the size, but trust me that Lu the Hippo was very, very big! Lu also happens to be an actual celebrity, having appeared in many movies back in the 1960’s as part of an Animal Actors troupe – at 58 Lu is now the oldest Hippo in North America. He’s so old that my parents actually saw him back when they visited Homosassa Springs, 30 years ago!
They were going to move him somewhere else once he retired, but he is so well loved that they made an exception – so well loved in fact that every year for his birthday they bake him a big hippo cake, and feed it to him while local school kids sing him happy birthday! So, so cute.
Next to the cage of Lu the Hippo are a whole bunch of Alligators, who rather than being scary actually looked a little goofy lying around in the sun 🙂
As well as the grown ups they had a few baby Alligators being taken care of in little tanks, who were actually kind of cute:
As a side-note, one of the attractions at Pittcon (Rob’s Chemistry Conference) this year was a chance to get your picture taken with a baby Alligator… you go, Florida! Rob sadly did not get a chance to get a picture taken, but several of his colleagues did and all were very excited 🙂
After seeing these very large friends we moved on to the bird area! As you can imagine a lot of the animals recovering here are birds that have trouble flying, since Florida is certainly not short of beautiful birds. I’ll do a parade of birds in a second, but first wanted to show you how ridiculously easy to photograph the birds are… witness my new best friend, Mr Roseate Spoonbill!
Not making any effort to fly away, and even posing for the camera! If you were in the wild you would immediately get eaten, Mr Spoonbill…
As well as this guy they had some very nice Bald Eagles, all being displayed in the traditional American way:
Plus magnificent Flamingos:
A very pretty Osprey:
These guys very proudly protecting their nest:
Plus aaaall these other lovely birds:
Okay, okay, okay – done with the birds now. Promise! In fact, we’re moving on to the main attraction – the Manatees!
I was so excited to see the Manatees since they’re one of the few creatures that I’ve never seen before, plus they are very unique looking. They’re called Sea Cows (because they live underwater, they’re big and they eat Sea Grass) but they’re actually a lot more like Elephants. They are also surprisingly fat for creatures that need to stay in hot temperatures all the time or they die…
These guys are also in captivity because they’re injured, and here they are waiting to be fed cabbage by the volunteers at the park. These guys were really, really excited about cabbage time:
Amusingly these manatees had actually been put on a diet recently by the vet at the park for being too chubby even by manatee standards, so they were restricted to just one large crate of lettuce between the four of them, served a few times a day. This still seems like a lot of lettuce, but manatees apparently need to consume around 10% of their body weight each day… which again, you live in hot water full of fish, how did you evolve to be like this? I still have much biology homework to do here…
We walked all around their enclosure watching them swim around, they really are very beautiful and the whole area was just stunning:
One of my other unanswered questions about manatees is their history of being mistaken for mermaids – manatees are even thought to possibly be the reason that people think mermaids exist at all. Which, I get that they’re big and have mermaid like tails, but really? Really, 15th century sailors?
Anyway, manatee mysteries aside we had a really fantastic day! Homosassa springs – you rock 🙂 🙂 🙂
We wrapped up the day with a delicious Cuban dinner:
And then headed off to Gainesville for our last day in Florida.
More soon! xx