GAINESVILLE — Tucked away on the campus of Santa Fe Community College is a place where people can not only learn about animals but learn from them.
At the Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo, visitors are treated to the sight of about 70 species from the most remote corners of the earth, including African leopard tortoises, South American guanacos (similar to llamas) and Matschie's tree kangaroos from New Guinea.
"The focus here is a little bit different," said Jack Brown, who teaches zoo animal technology and has served as zoo director since 1985. "We try to provide an atmosphere that people aren't likely to find anywhere else."
As the name implies, the zoo functions as a hands-on learning center for young people eyeing a career in the business. The 110 student workers from the zoo animal technology program do everything from conducting guided tours to cleaning cages.
"One of the first things they learn is that it's often very hard work that has little glamor to it," Brown said. "But if they are dedicated, there are plenty of personal rewards to be had."
Visitors to the sprawling 10-acre nature center will find plenty of rewards as well.
About three-quarters of the species inhabiting the zoo can be found only in the most elite U.S. zoos. Some animals, like the Perdido Key beach mouse and the Matschie's tree kangaroo, are rarely seen in the wild.
Youngsters will certainly enjoy many of the zoo's features, including up-close interaction with ocelots by way of a special glass viewing area designed into the animals' habitat.
Another popular tour stop is the reptile house, which contains several species of snakes and tortoises and even a couple of poison arrow frogs from Costa Rica.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.