Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Meet the wild things at Dade City zoo


There's a tiger nibbling on my shoulder.

"Tell her 'no,' " says Kathy Stearns, owner of Dade City's Wild Things, which offers tours and animal encounters at the Stearns Zoological Rescue & Rehab Center. The 22-acre private, nonprofit zoo houses nearly 200 animals just north of downtown Dade City.

The nibbler is 8-week-old Diamond, a white tiger donated to the zoo from G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. Stearns picked up Diamond when the cub was three weeks old.

"She was the highlight of everybody on the plane that day," Stearns said. The captain heard the commotion and asked Stearns to hold Diamond up to the peep hole at the cockpit, so he could see her. She started to walk away when the pilot called out.

"Wait," he said. "The co-pilot wants to see her, too."

In addition to the regular zoo tour — with bears, lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, panthers, cougars, kangaroos, otters, foxes, buffalo, baboons, capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, lemurs, prairie dogs, pot-bellied pigs, tortoises and Marvin, a rescued emu with a bad leg and a somewhat even temper — guests can opt to have a personal encounter with animals. For an extra cost, they can see Diamond; Mariah, an 18-week-old Florida Panther cub; Jay Jay, a teeny month-old snow macaque; and Roxie, an 8-week old bush baby, one of the smallest primates, as well as some other not-so-cuddly ones, a year-old alligator, a bearded dragon and a ball python. The zoo always offers the encounter experience, where Stearns talks and answers questions about the animals. You can see them fed and pet them and hold them. But it depends on what animals they have and if the animals like to be around people.

"You have to make sure it's okay for them," Stearns said.

Legally, when Diamond hits 40 pounds, which might be in four weeks or so, she won't be allowed to have close encounters with the public. Right now, she's 20 pounds: Short, somewhat coarse fur, bright blue eyes, big soft paws. She's still not sure on her feet, running sideways, tumbling, pouncing on toys, all energy and moxie.

"They have a determined instinct," Stearns says of tigers. When they focus on something, they stay with the target. Diamond's target Tuesday morning was my shoulder. Lightly nuzzling and sweet; playful, like a puppy or kitten. But Stearns knows this baby someday will be 600 pounds — and, at that size, Diamond cannot think it's okay to playfully nip flesh. So Diamond is learning the signals, the hand up, voice saying "no."

"They grow so fast," Stearns said.

For a free not-so-wild encounter, visit the zoo's gift shop at 37245 Meridian Ave., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. In the house live two rescued cats who are both missing a front leg — Sophie lost her left leg, Phoebe, her right. Both run to the front door to greet visitors, flopping down, rolling, meowing to be petted. No biting was witnessed by this reporter.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at or (727) 869-6229.

If you go

Tours of Stearns Zoological Rescue & Rehab Center leave from 37245 Meridian Ave. at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The gift shop is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

The tour lasts about three hours and costs $22.95 for adults, $12.95 for children younger than 12, and free for children 2 and younger. People ages 55 and older get 10 percent off. Animal encounters with Diamond and other critters are extra.

For information or reservations, call (352) 567-9453 or visit The nonprofit zoo is always looking for volunteers and donations of towels and pet toys. The grown-up tigers like to play with bowling ball pins. Baby Jay Jay uses up a lot of preemie diapers.

Meet the wild things at Dade City zoo 08/26/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010 9:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: Scott should keep demanding better for seniors in nursing homes


    The horrific story of elderly Floridians dying from the heat in a Broward County nursing home after surviving Hurricane Irma grows more outrageous. Even as a ninth death has been reported, the nursing home blames the state and has filed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Rick Scott's move to prevent it from accepting new …

    Even as a ninth death has been reported, the nursing home blames the state and has filed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Rick Scott’s move to prevent it from accepting new patients or Medicaid payments.
  2. DCF announces $133 million in federal aid for low-income families who lost food during Irma


    An additional $133 million is being distributed to Florida low-income families to help replace food destroyed by Hurricane Irma, the Florida Department of Children and Families announced today.

    The United States Department of Agriculture has made $133 million available to Florida low-income families to help them replace food damaged during Hurricane Irma
  3. A meatless burger that tastes like meat? Ciccio Restaurants will serve the Impossible Burger.

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The most red-hot hamburger in the nation right now contains no meat.

    Luis Flores, executive chef at Ciccio Restaurant Group, prepares an Impossible Burger at Epicurean Hotel's Food Theatre. Impossible Burger is a plant-based burger that will launch on Sept. 27, 2017 in all the Ciccio Restaurant Group locations, except for Fresh Kitchen. "This burger caters to the carnivorous, not just the vegetarians" said Jeff Gigante, co-founder at Ciccio Restaurant Group. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  4. Plan your weekend: Sept. 22-24: Buffyfest, Arcade Fire, Howl-O-Scream, Wanderlust 108 and 'Rent'


    Plan your weekend

    Pop show

    Florida Björkestra's Buffyfest: Pop culture meets pop music when the Florida Björkestra, a 20-piece alternative-classical ensemble that tributes ground-breaking pop artists, on Saturday will play with eight vocalists for "Once More with …

    The 20th anniversary tour of RENT, shown in 2016, comes to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts Sept. 19-24, 2017. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
  5. Chris Archer, 25,000 Cubs fans and Tampa Bay's painful truth

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The biggest ovation inside Tropicana Field on Tuesday night was not for Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who was returning for the first time since managing the Rays.

    "W" flags fly in the stands after the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Rays Tuesday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]