By: Carly Zinderman
The city of Gainesville offers plenty to do in an urban environment. But all over town and the surrounding areas you can find plenty of wildlife, large and small.
The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo is home to over 200 animals from around the world. For a small admission fee, guests can meet and greet some exotic species that live in the forested acres of the zoo.
The area around Gainesville contains countless state parks, each filled with wildlife of land, air and sea. Go for a hike, swim and explore the parks and you more than likely will come across more than one of Florida’s native species. Many state parks are on the historic register because they have been providing wildlife with homes for eons, while others offer special environments, like rainforests, which provide homes for various species.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is one of the best-known places to catch a glimpse of Florida’s famous alligators in their natural habitat. Head to one of the viewing platforms for a glimpse of the gators on the La Chua Trail, but leave your domestic animal at home because pets are not allowed here.
Here are a few safety recommendations from Visit Gainesville and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission:
- Observe and photograph alligators only from a distance. Remember, they’re an important part of Florida’s natural history as well as an integral component of aquatic ecosystems.
- Never feed alligators – it’s dangerous and illegal. When fed, alligators can overcome their natural wariness and learn to associate people with food.
- No pets allowed on the trail, and for extra precaution it is recommended that visitors with small children, remain on the boardwalk at all times—do not continue onto the open, grassy trail.
And Gators isn’t just the name of the University of Florida team; real gators can also be found in the campus’ Lake Alice.
Bats are also a big part of Gainesville’s local wildlife. From the bat house on the University of Florida campus to the annual Florida Bat Festival, the nocturnal creatures can be spotted on a regular basis.
Near Lake Alice, bats take off in droves from the bat house each night as the sun goes down, and right before you can spot glittering gator eyes below the surface of the lake.
The Florida Bat Festival is a free event held each year where you can not only view live fruit bats, but also enjoy all the fun and food of a festival.
You can also check out the bats at the Lubee Bat Conservancy, which researches bats to help restore the world’s dwindling population of fruit-eating bat species.