ZooTampa at Lowry Park will soon open new animal habitats — including one for a family of Asian bearcats that have a distinctive scent that resembles buttered popcorn — as well as a newly designed safari experience and a music event.
Though they didn’t give an exact date, the zoo said in a Monday announcement that this spring it will unveil new habitats with rare and unique species and a safari experience, “aimed at the goal of connecting guests with amazing wildlife.”
“Many people will never get the chance to take a trip across the world to see a rare shoebill stork in its native habitat or to be close enough to a binturong to catch a whiff of its unique scent which many compare to buttered popcorn,” said Joe Couceiro, CEO of ZooTampa. “We want our guests to walk away inspired and empowered by experiences that show the uniqueness of the animal world and join us on our mission to save these amazing species.”
ZooTampa’s popular binturong family — named Sully, Melati, and baby Kartika — will be relocating from their behind-the-scenes living space to the Asia realm of the zoo.
“Also known as Asian bearcats, these animals spend most of their time in trees using their padded paws and long claws to expertly grasp branches and explore treetops,” the release said. Listed as vulnerable, binturongs are at risk due to habitat destruction, poaching, and the fur and pet trade.
ZooTampa is home to three of only four shoebill storks in the United States. The birds can reach 5 feet in height and are classified as vulnerable, with only 3,300 to 3,500 mature shoebills still living in the wild. In 2009, ZooTampa became the first wildlife institution in North America to hatch one of these rare avians outside of their native range. Their new habitat is located in the Africa realm of the zoo and will provide guests their first glimpse of these animals in more than a decade.
A newly designed safari experience, called Expedition Wild Africa, will let guests “have the opportunity to play the role of research interns visiting Africa’s Pampu Preserve,” the announcement said.
Participants will solve clues and visit virtual base camps and research stations while onboard a safari truck during their journey. Animal adventures include up-close introductions to the predators on the Savanah, a view of the largest land mammal in the world, a close encounter with a crash of White Rhinos and more.
During spring break week — March 13-21 for most local school districts — guests will find a new Music in the Wild event described as “a wild afternoon filled with live music, food and drink specials and extended hours.”
The event will also feature the premiere of the zoo’s new mascot, Manny T the Florida manatee, and a food court offering meals and treats at a new outdoor event space, Saunders Pavilion.
Regular admission is $42.95, $32.95 for age 3-11 for the zoo at 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa, and that ticket allows unlimited admission through the end of the year. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but there will be extended hours until 7 p.m. March 13-21 during the Music in the Wild. There’s a $5 discount for after 2 p.m. tickets for the event at ZooTampa.org.