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. IT failure blamed for British Airways cancellations (w/video)


    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy U.K. holiday weekend.

    Passengers wait at a British Airways check-in desk after the airport suffered an IT systems failure Saturday at London''s Gatwick Airport. [Associated Press]
  2. Florida softball returns to World Series; FSU baseball in ACC title game


    GAINESVILLE — Florida defeated Alabama 2-1 Saturday to win the deciding Game 3 of their softball Super Region, putting the Gators in the Women's College World Series for the eighth time in program history.

    ’NOLE POWER: FSU’s Dylan Busby, right, is congratulated by teammate Taylor Walls after Busby’s homer against Duke.
  3. Calvary Christian routs Pensacola Christian to win state baseball title


    FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian left no doubt as to which baseball team in Class 4A was the best in Florida this season. The Warriors defeated Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium to claim the school's first state championship in any team sport. It also solidified a perfect 30-0 …

    Matheu Nelson of Calvary Christian celebrates scoring on a wild pitch during the first inning.
  4. Mayor: Men stabbed after anti-Muslin rant died as 'heroes' (w/video)


    PORTLAND, Ore. — Police said Saturday they'll examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of an Oregon man accused of fatally stabbing two men who tried to intervene when the suspect yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim on a Portland light-rail train.

    A sign of thanks rests against a traffic light pole at a memorial outside the transit center on Saturday in Portland, Ore. [Associated Press]
  5. Numerous lapses add up to frustrating Rays loss to Twins

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — While the Rays made some good defensive plays, threw a couple of big pitches when they needed to and got a few, and just a few, key hits, there were some obvious things they did wrong that led to them losing Saturday's game to the Twins 5-3:

    Rays reliever Tommy Hunter says the Twins’ tiebreaking homer came on a pitch that was “close to where I wanted it.”