Animals and Nature

Nature is captivating, especially to young people. Watching some of the world's most spectacular animals in their natural habitat can imprint a love of nature on a child that lasts a lifetime. As the world watches natural habitats destroyed acre by acre from development and pollution associated with global warming, travelers are increasingly rushing to view animals in their native surroundings while they still can.

Please Do Feed the Animals

The squeal of a child upon feeding her first llama is hard to beat. With hundreds of petting zoos, butterfly pavilions, and animal exhibits across America, it's easy to find one near you. There's even a website to help you find it: www.pettingzoofarm.com.

Kids love bugs. Denver's Butterfly Pavilion & Insect Center can boast more than 1,200 butterflies (www.butterflies.org). More than thirty endangered species live at the largest mountain zoo in the country, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Here giraffes wait anxiously in the African Rift Valley exhibit for kids to feed them (www.cmzoo.org). The Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville, North Carolina, is a 3.5-mile drive-thru zoo. Beware of the zebras; your child will want to bring one home (www.lazy5ranch.com).

The National Audubon Society Nature Camp

There's no better teacher than Mother Nature herself. And at nature camps, families can interact with nature on a daily basis, often in spectacular locales. The National Audubon Society Nature Camp in Rockland, Maine, is accessible only by boat. Campers travel to a 330-acre island where they spend time learning from respected naturalists and environmental educators. For seafood-loving moms and dads, a fresh lobster feast at the close of camp could the best part of the trip. (www.acadianationalpark.com)

Natural Habitat Adventures

Natural Habitat Adventures (www.NatHab.com) is a nature travel company. They specialize in tours on which families can truly experience animals up close and personal. Seeing giant polar bears, gray whales, and mountain gorillas is yours for the asking.

Naturalist guides accompany tours, and Natural Habitat Adventures Family Adventures employs professional youth coordinators and expedition leaders to ensure a safe and worriless adventure.

Wild Mustangs of the Outer Banks, North Carolina

Early explorers left the Spanish mustangs behind nearly five centuries ago. Their home now is 16,000 acres of dunes flanked on all sides by beaches and island terrain. Wild Horse Safari offered by Back Country Outfitters & Guides on the Outer Banks is a half-day expedition to see the wild horses of these barrier islands. (www.outerbankstours.com)

Raptor Centers

There are hundreds of raptor centers across the United States that rescue and rehabilitate raptors, also called birds of prey, and educate the public about these often protected creatures. These avian predators are at the top of the food chain. They're influenced by and influence nature on a grand scale. Raptors have proven that they can provide early warning signs for humans — thanks to their sensitivity to such environmental changes as those caused by chemical pollution. Because they make excellent study subjects for understanding the ecological process and the health of the environment, they are worth protecting. Birds of prey are magnificent to behold, with many displaying wing spans greater than the height of an adult man. In the past few years, centers for birds of prey have increasingly begun sprouting up all over the world.

Fast Fact

The World Center for Birds of Prey located in Boise, Idaho, is a global leader on the cutting edge of preserving, protecting, and understanding these magnificent animals. (www.peregrinefund.org)

The Medina Raptor Center in Spencer, Ohio, treats hundreds of birds annually with the goal of returning the birds to the wild once rehabilitated. (www.medinaraptorcenter.org) But not every raptor will be able to return to the wild. Raptors are used to educate the public about these incredible avian predators at the Carolina Raptor Center. The Carolinas are home to two raptor centers, Charlotte's Carolina Raptor Center (www.carolinaraptorcenter.org) and the Center for Birds of Prey (www.thecenterforbirdsofprey.org) on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina. Both facilities provide special care to injured birds and in the direst of cases, a home for the animals.

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