Whether cruising back roads or interstates around west-central Florida, you’ll see gentle hills, seemingly endless green fields, oak and pine groves and water features, such as rivers and swamps.

Aside from people, it’s also a perfect home for wild and exotic animals, many of which hail from similar climates in Africa and other continents. There are three such exotic-animal attractions near Leopard at Big Cat Rescue Tampa Animal attractionsthe Tampa Bay area. An excursion to any — or all — is a great learning experience for you and any visitors to your new ICI Homes neighborhood.

All three attractions cheerfully welcome visitors for entertainment and educational purposes, and provide excellent facilities and means for visitors to enjoy their time there.

But, each attraction also is either a working refuge, ranch, farm or wildlife conservation area. Be aware they’re non-amusement-park zones, and that you’ll be accompanied by experienced guides. Each facility also requires advance reservations.

With that in mind, there are many cool things to do! How about feeding half a head of lettuce to a giraffe tall enough to see in the second level of your new home? Touring safari-style on a Segway? Or being awed by majestic big cats who were rescued from abusive or neglectful situations and now live safely in refuge?

Here’s our guide to a Tampa-area resident’s walk on the wild side.

Giraffe Ranch

This attraction is located 38 miles north of Tampa, off Interstate 75, in Dade City. Giraffe Ranch encompasses 47 ares and is billed as an eco-adventure. Of course, you’ll see giraffes, but also many other types of wildlife. Antelopes, zebras, warthogs, sandhill cranes, tortoises, lemurs, ostriches, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses — the list goes on!

Tours are offered twice daily. You’ll travel in a stadium-seated safari vehicle, or can upgrade to a Llama trek, Camel expedition or Segway tour. Add-on activities are available.

Giraffe Ranch is also a neighbor to Florida’s Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, a 109,000-acre, outdoor-recreation jewel of its own.

Safari Wilderness

It’s the sister attraction to Giraffe Ranch and under the same family ownership. Safari Wilderness is much bigger — 260 acres — and located east of Tampa on Interstate 4, in Lakeland. You’ll see more animals in their natural environment, much as in their native areas of the world.

Expect many of the same species as at Giraffe Ranch, but Safari Wilderness’ breadth means many unique animals too. Hint: count the number of different kinds of horns (or racks) on the many different antelopes, cattle and deer that you’ll see.

Like Giraffe Ranch, Safari Wilderness offers limited daily tour times and multiple choices of how to do so. It also abuts the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve.

Big Cat Rescue

This non-profit north of downtown Tampa is home to more than 60 big cats of varying species. It’s a rescue organization that’s long been active in lobbying to end big cats’ use in the pet trade.

But Big Cat Rescue also welcomes visitors at certain times each day to see their rescued lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, bobcats and many more. Education, enlightenment and just plain fun all are part of each tour. The staff also hosts annual special events as fundraisers and are happy to explain how you can help sponsor one of their big felines.

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