Ligers aren’t just for fairy tales (or cult classics) any more. We’ve partnered with world traveler Erin Bender from the blog Travel With Bender, as she gets up close and personal with this majestic animal.
You won’t spot these rare creatures on an African safari or in the untamed jungles of India. Typically the lion and tiger do not mix in the wild – both geographically and as distinct species. But if you’ve ever had a childlike daydream and wondered what a fusion of these two majestic animals would look like, then dream no longer. Simply visit Jungle Island in Miami, Florida to witness the curious hybrid from a male lion and female tiger.
Tucked away on Watson Island, deep within the steamy depths of Miami, is a lush, tropical jungle, home to one of the rarest animals on earth. Not only will you find a graceful feline, but also one that is the largest living cat on Earth — Hercules the liger (according to Guinness Book of World Records).
Thankfully he’s not roaming unobstructed, but inside a large, well-equipped enclosure at Jungle Island — an interactive 22-acre zoological park on Watson Island, which has just celebrated 75 years of operation.
Watson Island is a man-made landmass in Biscayne Bay, Miami, immediately east of the city center.
While the island’s Jungle Theatre is a popular highlight for visitors, weighing in at 922 pounds, Hercules knows how to steal the show. He was my first liger experience. And one I won’t forget.
The park is also home to rare twin orangutans, over 300 birds, reptiles, penguins, flamingos and many other creatures. On top of the zoo exhibits, you will find plenty of educational talks and animal highlights at venues throughout the park.
Want to touch? You won’t be disappointed with the petting zoo, where you can interact with both domestic and exotic animals, including those from my home country. Yes, even a cuddly kangaroo!
Far from what you’d expect in a city famous for tourist-laden beaches, Jungle Island not only houses a exquisite variety of animals, but also boasts of beautiful tropical landscaping combined with 1.35 miles of winding covered trails.
Plan to spend the majority of the day here and ensure you save time for the scheduled shows. Dr. Wasabi’s Wild Adventures was a highlight featuring a baby alpaca, an alligator snapping turtle, baby Hamadryas baboons, kangaroos and African penguins. Dr. Wasabi was both entertaining and educational; keeping our kids engaged the entire time.
If you need a break, take advantage of an on-site playground. Kids can run and play to their hearts content, while the adults catch their breath.
There’s no shortage of shade, a much-needed relief on warm Florida days. And the on-site café offers favorites like salads, sandwiches, pizzas, fries, chicken tenders, spaghetti, hot dogs, burgers and more. Otherwise you can bring a picnic and find a shady seat.
Jungle Island is open 365 days a year. Tickets are available online or at the gate, and you can purchase discounted parking online too for $10.
Access by car via the MacArthur Causeway is only 12 minutes from downtown Miami, or you can use public bus routes C, M, S or the 120.
While on Watson Island, make a day of it and check out other attractions like the Aviation Centre, Japanese Garden or Miami Children’s Museum.
But whatever you do, make sure you don’t miss the liger. This big cat has stepped out of your impossible daydream and into the easily accessible realm of Miami. Now he’s just waiting for you.
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