We’ve all seen those long-beaked brown pelicans floating above Biscayne Bay waiting to scoop up a fish. The species’ vitality in our region can be thanked, in part, to Pelican Harbor Seabird Station (PHSS). Tucked just north of the JFK Causeway in Miami, this nonprofit specializes in the rehabilitation and placement of brown pelicans and other birds, reptiles, and mammals.Since its founding in 1980, PHSS has treated more than 41,000 individual animals, including 300 species of birds.
Miamians who encounter an injured animal can turn to PHSS for help. The organization offers a safe facility to drop off an animal in need, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Looking to help PHSS’ cause? Volunteers 18 and older are actively needed to feed its resident animal patients and keep their living quarters tidy. You can also support PHSS (and learn more about our local wildlife) on one of its two-hour seabird cruises on Biscayne Bay offered twice a month. During the cruise, you’ll hear all about Miami’s marine ecosystem and get up close and personal with the mangroves of Bird Key, which is home to nearly three dozen bird species, from egrets to cormorants and, of course, pelicans.
Located in South Miami, the Zoological Wildlife Foundation (ZWF) and its efforts to educate locals and visitors alike on endangered animals date back to 2000. It was then that Mario and Maria Tabraue, a Cuban-American couple, first met and subsequently opened their five-acre zoo. Today, the space is as interactive as it gets, with opportunities to feed camels, toucans, lemurs, and other animals that have been rescued from inhumane habitats—many of which were born in captivity.
Reservation-only tours are held daily. If you fall in love with a critter during your visit, the nonprofit offers a unique opportunity for individuals and businesses to “adopt” that animal, enabling you and a guest to have an up-close encounter with your owl, lemur, or otter (and more) up to 50 times. Sure, the animal will continue to live at ZWF in order to receive appropriate care, but talk about a cool way to make a longtime friend.
Last year, Everglades Outpost Wildlife Sanctuary (EOWS) celebrated its thirtieth year of serving Florida’s wild and endangered animals. The Homestead-based organization is now the Sunshine State’s largest nonprofit alligator sanctuary, housing more than 200 gators that would otherwise be euthanized. All the animals at EOWS have been confiscated from illegal situations by either the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Federal Wildlife Commission, or they were surrendered at the sanctuary. A true animal-lover’s paradise, EOWS houses a diverse array of species, including tigers, possums, foxes, panthers, lemurs, zebras, camels, and more.
The operation is run by volunteers who give guided tours, present wildlife shows, and feed the animals—which is no small task, considering that EOWS rescues more than 1,000 animals annually and uses more than 50,000 pounds of meat and 12,000 pounds of hay to feed the critters in its care. Wildlife tours are bookable by appointment Mondays through Thursdays. Or opt for walk-up tickets on weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Davie’s Flamingo Gardens is more than just a pink-feathered paradise. Its 60-acre grounds are home to one of the oldest botanical gardens in the state, dating back to 1927. Among its standout flora are 18 Florida Champion trees, including the largest tree in the state. Travel back in time at the circa-1933 Wray Home Museum and pay homage to the site’s founders, Floyd and Jane Wray.
The top draw, however, is the wildlife. Opened in 1990, Flamingo Gardens’ wildlife sanctuary offers a variety of experiences, including the namesake flamingo pond; an American crocodile habitat; a 25,000-square-foot aviary filled with more than 250 birds; a center devoted to birds of prey like owls, vultures, and hawks; a turtle walk; a river otter pool; habitats for panthers and bobcats; and a black bear exhibit where the 600-pound Josh the Bear saunters about (you can even book a date with him for a fee).
No animal is turned away, a fact that’s evident in Flamingo Gardens’ statistics: The nonprofit rescued and rehabilitated nearly 600 animals last year alone.