Who knew that tigers like to swim? That orangutans can paint? Or that there really is a theme park area with rides just for tweeners?
It's all at Jungala, the new 4-acre attraction at Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa.
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Thanks to inventive see-through barriers and viewing areas, visitors can get close – and sometimes personal – with Bengal tigers, orangutans, flying foxes, gibbons.
At the Test Your Strength interaction, animal caretakers hand one end of a rope to a 220-pound tiger, the other end to park guests via a double-thick mesh barrier. On a signal, the tiger pulls, playing tug-of-war. The guests cheer.
“It was hard. It was fun, too,” said Tyler Berryman, 14, of Brooksville, Fla., who pulled his end of the line with his brother Justin, 11. “She was ripping really hard.”
Other tigers plunge into a shallow pool with an underwater viewing area. “Tigers are one of the few cats that like water,” says mammal curator Michael Boos.
You can wander past guest areas such as an underground window and a glass cupola that pops up into the exhibit.
Or people can watch the orangutans that swing along overhead lines, sway in hammocks or paint with a specially equipped brush. All animal behaviors are designed to keep things interesting for the creatures and to train them so that caretakers have easy access for medical examinations.
The exhibits are designed on multiple levels, so visitors can watch an animal – or a ride – from above or below.
A village plaza offers surprise visits with animal ambassadors such as servals or snakes, and provides a platform for the whimsical show featuring “animal” characters on stilts that takes place several times each day.
When kids have watched long enough, they can burn off the buzz on the intricate maze of nets, bridges and tubes that actually duck into the gibbon area; hop on the 35-foot pneumatic pop-up ride or glide above it on all a gentle zip-line ride – all designed for ages 6-13.
If they're old and tall enough, they can even drag their parents over to one of the roller coasters; you can hear roaring nearby.