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Gulf & Main Magazine

Wild About Animals!: Attractions let children encounter creatures from around the world

May 07, 2021 02:52PM ● By ANN MARIE O’PHELAN

Imagine the surprise on your children’s faces if they saw a 100-pound African sulcata tortoise munching greens! They’ll see one at Fort Myers-based IMAG - History & Science Center. Picture their delight at hearing a keel-billed toucan’s squawk at the Shell Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers. Envision their joy as they feed a giraffe at Naples Zoo. Those are just a few of the animals from around the world that reside at these three local attractions.

At IMAG History & Science Center, children can experience a “Sea-to-See” touch tank, where they can observe horseshoe crabs and newly acquired yellow-spotted stingrays. There are also toads, salamanders and snakes, a living lab with a 3,200-gallon aquarium, stingray feedings and live animal encounters.

New to the IMAG family is a Dragon Moray Eel, baby African frogs and chocolate chip sea stars. Outside is a lagoon with fish and turtles that love to be fed food from the vending machines. And next to the lagoon is Percy, the African sulcata tortoise, who happens to be celebrating his 25th birthday this year.

“You can find Percy roaming around his enclosure. Stop by and say, ‘Happy Birthday, Percy,’ ” says Kelli King, director of inspiration (development & communications). This remarkable species can live about 70 years and can be found in the southern Sahara Desert.

The Shell Factory & Nature Park has more than 400 animals residing on four and a half acres of parkland. Visitors will see raccoons, kinkajous, iguanas, tortoises, alligators, exotic snakes and reptiles, farm animals, a zebra, a butterfly garden and an exotic bird aviary. There are animal feeding times, animal encounters and a chance to feed farm animals such as goats, pigs, sheep and cows.

“Children and families of all ages can observe these animals in their natural habitat—interacting with one another, eating and drinking and moving around in a given space. What’s even better, our guests are obtaining a close, personal, hands-on encounter with the animals; making it a memorable experience that is second to none,” says general manager Anne Sheridan.

Naples Zoo at the Caribbean Gardens offers lions, leopards, zebras, lemurs, coyotes, panthers and hyenas, along with a primate expedition cruise, animal demonstrations and feeding times. In addition, director of marketing and public relations Courtney Jolly Goff notes: “Our new elevated giraffe feeding experience and exhibit allows for a face-to-face encounter with the world’s tallest animal!”

Experiencing animals in real life allows for a better connection to the creatures, and a greater understanding and appreciation of their importance in the world. It’s an important lesson to learn at a young age.

Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.


IMAG - History & Science Center
2000 Cranford Ave., Fort Myers

Shell Factory & Nature Park
16554 North Cleveland Ave., North Fort Myers


Naples Zoo at the Caribbean Gardens
1590 Goodlette-Frank Road, Naples



Adam’s Animal Encounters of Bokeelia  
Exotic animals via drive-through encounters/tours; by appointment only
Text 239-674-6537;


The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
Mollusks and sea creatures in aquariums and touch tanks
3075 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel


The Butterfly Estates
Native butterflies at The Florida Native Butterfly Conservancy
1815 Fowler St., Fort Myers


The Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium - 3450 Ortiz Ave, Fort Myers, FL
Butterfly house, raptor aviary, rescue animals, alligators
3450 Ortiz Ave, Fort Myers


Everglades Wonder Garden
Flamingos, alligators, parrots
27180 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs


Gator Mike’s Family Fun Park - 35 NE Pine Island Rd, Cape Coral, FL
Feeding pond with fish, turtles
35 NE Pine Island Road, Cape Coral


Ostego Bay Foundation - 718 Fishermans Wharf, Fort Myers Beach, FL
Interactive exhibits, aquariums, touch tanks
718 Fishermans Wharf, Fort Myers Beach


Rotary Park
Butterflies at Thomas J. Allen Butterfly House
1340-1372 Rose Garden Road, Cape Coral