Dade City’s Wild Things Offers Lion Encounters

By Allison Mondell, CBS Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. (CBS Tampa) –  Thirteen-week-old lion cub Leonardo from Dade City’s Wild Things is used to being the center of attention.

People don’t seem to faze Leo.  After being the subject of countless photographs, the cub is content playing with dog toys and drinking milk from a baby bottle.  When he finishes the bottle, he chews the top off and growls until he gets more milk.

Dade City’s Wild Things, a non-profit sanctuary zoo, offers guided tours, safari rides and animal encounters where guests can experience one-on-one time with wild animals, such as Leo.

PHOTOS: CBS Radio employees meet Leonardo The Lion Cub

Randy Stearns, head trainer at Wild Things, visited CBS Radio with Leo in tow on a leash.  In a few weeks, Leo will be too big to play with the public during the zoo’s encounters.  According to Stearns, the state law limits public interaction with lions once the cubs reach 40 pounds.

“They do grow pretty fast.  He’ll be over 100 pounds in a year,” Stearns told CBS Radio.

A full-grown male lion can weigh over 600 pounds and have paws eight inches in diameter.

Leo goes through several bottles of milk in one feeding session.  He chews the top of the bottle off to help soothe his sore gums.

“He’s teething just like an infant would,” Stearns said.

The cub’s diet isn’t all milk.  At seven weeks, Leo began eating raw hamburger meat.  Now at thirteen weeks, Leo eats chicken wings, bones and all.

“The full-grown lion will eat chicken wing quarters and even ribs, so he’ll be chowing down on some good stuff,” Stearns said.

The human interaction Leo experiences now as a cub will help the trainers interact with Leo when he’s full-grown.  Stearns said that the zoo will not train older lions because the trainers are not familiar with their background and never know what to expect.

Dade City’s Wild Things is located in downtown Dade City on 22 acres of property.   It is home to leopards, lions, jaguars, tigers and several other wild animals.  Stearns advised that reservations for encounters with Leo be made in the next two weeks to ensure he is still within the legal weight range.

  • Dale Sullivan

    The USDA only allows such interaction between exotic cats and the public between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks, SO HOW ARE THESE PEOPLE GETTING AWAY WITH THIS? WHEN HE’S TOO BIG, THEN WHAT? DO THEY TRADE HIM IN FOR ANOTHER CUB RIPPED FROM IT’S MOTHER?

  • Simon

    Such a shame that CBS would endorse an operation like this by writing this article. “Pay for play” breeding is one of the major contributors to the captive exotic crisis in this country. Have we learned nothing at all after the Ohio massacre of exotics, many of which were bred for money-making opportunities just like this one? There’s no way they can make enough $$ when they’re a cub to support these animals for the next 20+ years of life. So, where do they all go?? THAT’S the question CBS should be writing about, not this fluff piece!

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