Okay, we all know that alligators, panthers and bears can be found in their natural habitats of the Big Cypress Swamp and Everglades National Park, just 30 minutes from Marco Island. Some of us are aware that crocodiles, river otters and several other unique species can also be found there. But, wait! Did I just see a tiger and a lion in this area? You bet!!!
Just past the intersection of U.S. 41 and Route 29, about 2 miles east, is Wooten’s Airboat rides. Under new ownership by the Patel family for less than 2 years, the company has already reached status as Trip Advisor’s #1 rated airboat tour. They also have a swamp buggy ride on site so you can view 3 different and distinct habitats on their 250 acres of privately owned land. What I find most interesting about their program is the area that is being converted from an animal viewing area into a wildlife sanctuary.
Changes are being made here to improve the homes of the animal residents.
With family guidance, and the cooperation of an educated and genuinely caring staff, larger and more natural homes are being constructed for a variety of the wildlife. For example Lola, a 2 yr old lioness, is receiving a new compound about 5 times her current structure and with a more natural terrain. Plans are in theworks for many more upgrades as well.
Rest assured that everything is being done correctly. The program is under the watchful eyes of both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Wooten’s also has a Naples veterinarian on call in case of emergencies. The health and safety of these animals are a priority for all agencies and especially for the owners and staff.
Let’s meet a few of these special inhabitants:
Daisy: Born in captivity, Daisy is an 8 year old female tiger. She bears all of the markings that we know as a tiger, with the brown and black stripes. She came to Wooten’s by means of Dade City Wildlife, which helps to locate or relocate many exotic animals. Daisy now has a new roommate to keep her company.
Daruba: Recently acquired thru Dade City Wildlife as well, Daruba is a 5 year old male tiger that is quite unique….he’s white. With virtually no brown markings Daruba is a white tiger with black stripes and is very imposing at nearly 600 pounds. His previous owner was beset with health issues and needed to relocate this big guy. When Wooten’s found out about this, they acted quickly to give Daruba a good home and to provide companionship for Daisy.
Lola: Here is a 2 year old lioness that is still as playful as a newborn. Lola is preparingto relocate, on site, to a bigger and better home with a much more natural terrain. It’s not unusual to see her playing with a tree branch or just looking at you while lying upside down.
Charlie: This 15 yr old alligator is used frequently in the gator shows. Gator Mike knows this guy well and is in knee deep water several times a day to show and educate the public what alligator anatomy and behavior means.
In addition to the above mentioned critters, you will find other alligators, some very old, and crocodiles of considerable size. There is a snake pavillion with both venomous and non-venomous varieties. You might even find a bobcat on site and some river otters!
Congratulations to the Wooten’s people for their performance. With an eye on constant improvement and continual public education they are creating stepping stones in a good direction. Oh…did I mention? They always make it fun!!!
Wooten’s is located just about 40 minutes from the center of Marco Island at 32330 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, Fl 34141 or call them at 800-282-2781.
Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours and also a naturalist on board the Dolphin Explorer survey program. He is a member of Florida SEE (Society for Ethical Ecotourism). Bob loves his wife very much!
“Wildlife of the Everglades, Part 2”
When: April 23, 7pm
Where: Rose Auditorium
Info: See recent photos and learn more about some of the animals that live nearby.
Contact: Marco Island Historical Society 394-6917