By Tom Chang
Riding a trolley from the gift shop, visitors will enter the world of Dade City’s Wild Things, an animal sanctuary and zoo. The 22-acre facility is home to more than 190 different animals from tigers and bears, to wallabies and monkeys.
“I worked with animals since I was a kid,” owner Kathy Stearns said. “I have been doing wildlife rehab for 30-plus years. We got this monkey then we got more [animals]. It grew to the point where we created the nonprofit. We started doing private tours. We got to doing this full-time. I woke up one day and said ‘let’s start a zoo.’ We’ve been a nonprofit for 7-8 years.”
One recent addition to the zoo is a white tiger cub named Diamond, who recently visited PetSmart in the Grove at Wesley Chapel for a fitting of his blue color with embedded diamonds.
“Diamond is a white tiger with brown stripes,” Stearns said. “She’s a Bengal. She was donated to us from a zoo out in Oklahoma City. We got her when she was 3 weeks old. She’s about 9 and a half weeks now.”
According to Stearns, all white tigers are related and can be traced to the one found in the wild. Diamond is still on the bottle, fed with the essential nutrients tiger cubs require. She is adjusting to raw meat, but not capable of chewing through bone. When the cub reaches 100 pounds, which is usually within a few months, she will be above handle-weight.
Diamond isn’t the only baby at the zoo, according to Randy Stearns, Kathy’s son and a 15-year employee of the zoo. He said visitors can handle a variety of baby animals.
“It’s popular because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “The people enjoy it. The animals enjoy it. It helps socialize the animals and get used to people.”
Other youths are also a common sight at the zoo — children.
“We do a lot of birthday parties in the spring time,” Kathy Stearns said. “We also have summer camps where kids come for a week or three days where they get hands-on.”
She said the zoo is expanding its driving tour section.
“We have buffalo now and a lot of the animals not on the walking tour,” Kathy Stearns said. “We are planning to get a giraffe. There is a five-acre section where a guide will tell you about things.”
Dade City’s Wild Things is located on 37245 Meridian Ave. General admission is $22.95 for adults. Seniors receive a 10 percent discount. Children ages 2–12 are $12.95 and ages under 2 are free. The facility opens from Tuesday thru Saturday. The gift shop is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, while tours run at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. For more information, visit www.dadecityswildthings.com or call (352) 567-9453.