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Central Florida Zoological Park Brings Out The Beast, ERR — Best In People

The Central Florida Zoological Park (CFZP), located within a 109-acre park in Sanford, Florida, north of Orlando, features a new breed of zoo setting that, according to its mission statement, is "dedicated to the trustworthy stewardship of our natural environment through the exhibition of living animals and plants and sustaining programs in wildlife education and conservation.

The park is highlighted by lush forests of graceful palms, towering pines and stately live oaks that provide a spectacular environment for an international ensemble of hundreds of animals, including birds, primates, hoofed mammals, felines, reptiles and amphibians. Owned and operated by the Central Florida Zoological Society, a private non-profit charitable organization, the zoo provides recreational and educational opportunities for nearly 250,000 guests annually.

First established as the Sanford Zoo in 1933 with a collection of donated animals held by the Sanford Fire Department, the zoo was in danger or closing in 1971 when the city announced it was planning to dispose of its animal collection.

The zoo's mission, however, continued when an initial support group dubbed the Seminole Zoological Society (now known as the Central Florida Zoological Society) came to the rescue. The group provides much-needed volunteer and financial support to sustain the mission of the zoo.

Among the most popular of the CFZP's programs is the up-close and personal Animal Encounter, in which docents (trained volunteers) educate visitors about the characteristics of some three dozen animals ranging from snakes to screech owls to alligators.

The Endangered Species Learning Safari tour delves more deeply into the problems being experienced by a high percentage of species on the planet. The reasons why animals are threatened or endangered are discussed, as well as the role that zoos play in the breeding of these species. Emphasis is placed on the preservation of habitats and how all individuals can help.

Another dimension in education is the Curric-Zoo-lum, which offers every third-grade class in the area the opportunity to experience a fun day of learning at the zoo studying mathematics, language arts, geography and social science. The integrated curriculum was developed by zoo staff members and Seminole County school teachers. Other grade-specific programs include Two for the Zoo, which allows second-graders to learn what it’s like to be zoo keepers and ZooLab, a chance for fourth and fifth graders to participate in a living classroom.

One of the zoo’s newest features is ZOOm Air Adventures, an aerial adventure course that lets you explore the tree tops from an animal’s perspective through rope bridges, zip lines and suspended disks. Participants must be 54 inches tall to take on the Upland or Rainforest courses. There’s also a Kid’s Course for those 36 to 54 inches tall.

And for those warm days, kids of all ages can soak up the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground. The Tropical Splash Ground includes an alligator, frog, hippopotamus, raining trees, water tunnel and a bucket dump, and outreach programs in which zoo representatives hit the road with live animals and themed slide shows in tow.

For additional information, call CFZP at 407/323-4450.