Skip to main content
East County Wednesday, Jun. 16, 2021 1 month ago

What to do: A peek at the Lakewood Ranch area's animal attractions

The greater Lakewood Ranch area has plenty of places to see various types of animals.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Lemurs, tigers and bears, oh my! The greater Lakewood Ranch area has plenty of places with animals for people to visit as summer begins. 

Stella the sloth hangs from the arm of Danielle Rosaire with Big Cat Habitat.

Many animal organizations and nonprofits, such as Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, were closed last summer due to COVID-19, and now they're ready to welcome visitors back. 

"It's about time to be out in the sun and enjoy the animals," said Danielle Rosaire with Big Cat Habitat. "The animals enjoy it too."

Rosaire said the animals noticed when people weren't visiting the nonprofit and became depressed. The only visitors the sanctuary had were people coming for private animal encounters. 

Now the sanctuary is open for people to see its nearly 200 animals, view the bird and variety animal shows, visit the petting zoo and choose to participate in an animal encounter.

When it comes to being able to see and interact with wild and interesting animals, East County offers an abundance of options. Here are a few:

Bearadise Ranch

When: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays through July 4

Bearadise Ranch owner Monica Welde works with Carol, one of the bears at the ranch. Bearadise Ranch will be open through July 4 and reopen in October.

Where: Bearadise Ranch, 6908 245th St. E., Myakka City

Cost: $10 for adults; $6 for children

Details: If you love bears, you’ll get to see them in their natural habitat and learn about the different subspecies and more. The ranch is a learning facility to promote awareness for habitat conservation and preservation for all bear species. Reservations are required.

How to schedule a visit: Call 322-2462 or email [email protected]

More information: Visit the Bearadise Ranch Facebook page or call 322-2462.


Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary 

People can feed the goats in the petting zoo at Big Cat Habitat.

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays

Where: Big Cat Habitat, 7101 Palmer Blvd., Sarasota 

Cost: $20 for adults; $10 for children ages 3 to 12; free for children 2 years old and younger

Details: Big Cat Habitat offers a chance to see several exotic animals, from tigers to sloths to foxes, lemurs and more. Visitors can reserve a spot in wild yoga sessions with foxes and tigers on select dates as well as schedule animal encounters with a sloth, lemurs and foxes. At 1 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, there will be a bird show followed by a live variety animal demonstration at 2 p.m. A petting zoo gives visitors another opportunity to interact and feed animals.

How to purchase a ticket: Visit

More information: Visit or call 731-6377.


Birds of Paradise Sanctuary and Rescue

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays

Debbie Huckaby, the executive director of Birds of Paradise Sanctuary and Rescue says people will learn and possibly interact with the birds during a visit. File photo.

Where: Birds of Paradise, 17020 Waterline Road, Bradenton

Cost: Donation 

Details: Visitors will see a multitude of species of birds from as small as a finch to as big as a macaw. The sanctuary also has 250 parrots. It’s the most birds a person can see in one location. Visitors will learn about the different species of birds, what they eat, how they live in the wild and more. Visitors will be able to interact with some birds. 

How to schedule a visit: Go to and fill out a sanctuary visitation request

More information: Visit or call 727-366-9997.


Herrmanns’ Royal Lippizan Stallions Independence Day performance

When: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. July 4 

Rebecca McCullough is part of the six generations of the Herrmann family to train and perform with the Lipizzan stallions. File photo.

Where: Herrmanns’ Royal Lippizan Stallions, 32755 Singletary Road, Myakka City

Cost: Free ($10 donation per person requested)

Details: Herrmanns’ Royal Lippizan Stallions is hosting its annual Independence Day performance. Visitors can bring their own chairs or sit in the bleacher seating available. 

More information: Call 322-1501.


Rye Road Giraffes

When: 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday (select weekends through July 4)

Crystal Landkas-Coronas with Rye Road Giraffes feeds carrots to Melman and Twiggs. The giraffes love carrots and enjoy romaine lettuce, fresh branches from trees and other foods. File photo.

Where: Rye Road Giraffes, 211 Rye Road, Bradenton

Cost: $12 for adults; $10 for seniors; $5 for children ages 5 to 10; $10 for military

Details: Visitors can meet animals, enjoy the open air pavilion and feed Melman the giraffe. Kids activities include bounce houses, camel rides, pony rides and performances.

How to schedule a visit: Send Rye Road Giraffes a direct message through its Facebook page

More information: Rye Road Giraffes Facebook page


Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy

When: 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays 

Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy camper Lilly Gerling listens to equine manager Samantha Toomey while she rides Cherokee. File photo.

Where: Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy, 4640 County Road 675, Bradenton

Cost: $60 per person

Details: Private or group riding lessons are available. The nonprofit’s weekly summer camp runs until July 30. Summer camp is $350 per week.

How to schedule a visit: Call 322-2000

More information: Visit or call 322-2000.

While some organizations and businesses will be open throughout the summer, some will open in the fall.

Myakka Elephant Ranch, which provides three types of encounters with the nonprofit’s elephants, is already taking reservations for November. To make a reservation or for more information, visit or call 702-0220.

Bearadise Ranch will close for the summer after July 4 and reopen in October.

Once Rye Road Giraffes closes after its final visitation July 4, it will reopen in December for its Christmas celebration.

Related Stories