Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a park that I’ve intended to visit since I’ve been in Florida. I think it’s considered a tourist trap; that’s certainly what my viewpoint was. It’s a state park, but you go to see animals kind of like in a zoo (spoiler alert, it’s not a zoo). The biggest things the park is known for are its underwater manatee observatory and Lu, the hippopotamus.
This park has been an attraction since at least the 40s. As of the 60s, it was the home of animal TV and movie stars. It’s gone through several changes since then, now being owned by Florida as a state park. In 1989 when the state took over the park all nonnative animals were moved. However, Lu was so popular and had been there for so long that the governor made him an honorary citizen of Florida and he got to stay. I’ve seen hippos at the zoo, this guy is different. I’d swear he remembers his days of fame because he moons for the camera and comes up to the edge of his enclosure as if posing for pictures.
Other than Lu all of the animals in this park are here because they are Florida natives. Most of them are here because they are unable to survive in the wild for various reasons. I’m not sure about the alligators and a lot of the birds, it seems unlikely (I hope!) that the entire flock of flamingos is made up of birds who were injured, but I didn’t think to ask while I was there. Next time I go I’ll try and find out and update this section.
Speaking of birds, this is an amazing place to see them. There’s a large area with what seem to be voluntary residents. Pelicans, vultures, all kinds of interesting Florida birds are there. If you are into birding this is a great place to bring a camera and just kind of hang out. In addition to the main area with its variety of birds, there is a couple of bird of prey exhibits. These include red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, and whooping cranes. The exhibits are open-air, but the birds are here because they were injured (being hit by a car seems to be horribly common) so they need the help they’re receiving and can’t fly away.
The park is also the home of key deer, bobcats, Florida panthers, a black bear, and plenty more. We really enjoyed our visit. To be honest, I liked it more than I expected and will definitely be back. My Florida state park pass is getting plenty of use this year!
We ended up staying a little over two hours, at least 15 minutes was just watching the birds in the center area. An important thing to make note of now (March 2021) is the underwater observatory, the boat tour and the discovery center are all closed.
There are still opportunities to see manatees, although from above water. When I went there was a couple there for rehabilitation reasons. The park has a really nice boardwalk that allows you to walk along and view the river and the manatees when they are there. The area isn’t open to people by water, so this gives you the opportunity to view them relaxed and happy.