South Florida is the perfect refuge for some of the world’s most endangered animals. And while we don’t have any baby pandas to cuddle with at the moment (so jealous of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), we still have a ton of cuddly animals that you can get up close with at Jungle Island.
Dr. Jason Chatfield, VP of zoological operations at Jungle Island gives us some intel on which of the critters are available for meet and greets (the VIP tours offers primo cuddling opportunities).
“They are like teddy bears come to life,” says Chatfield. With their cute little hands with opposable thumbs and their long furry tails, lemurs are the stars of the show. Fun fact: Lemurs like to make friends, and to initiate you into their posse, they rub their butts on you to give you a distinctive smell.
There are two kinkajous at Jungle Island, which are South American raccoons with a prehensile tail. They will hang by their tail to eat but they will roll themselves upright to chew and swallow. They must have really ripped cores.
3. Baby Tiger
Currently there are four tigers (one male, three females) at Jungle Island so a baby tiger could make a cameo during the VIP tour. The only problem is that time works against the cuddle factor: cubs tend to gain a pound and a half daily and once the tigers weigh 25 pounds, they must be enjoyed from a distance.
4. Capuchin Monkey
Cover your head if you are either bald or have an elaborate ‘do because these monkeys love to monkey around on your noggin. The two favorites are Sparkle, the youngest female, and Robin, who was named after the late comedian Robin Williams via a naming contest on social media.
5. African Crested Porpcupine
So here is the trick to petting a porcupine, like Lil Dude (pictured here): Go with the grain. The quills all point in one direction. There’s a myth that porcupines shoot their quills out, but they don’t. “They just come out very easily,” explains Chatfield.
Who can resist an animal that is famous for taking life easy? The average sloth can run at a speed of one mile every two days and that sounds familiar. That’s about how far you can get on the Palmetto during rush hour.
Another sloth. Just hanging out. No pressure.
Sorry, but not just anyone gets to hang with the orangutans. Linda Jacobs (pictured) is part of their tribe, though. She has been dubbed the Orangutan Mama and is one of few people who get to work with the animals. Jacobs is so dedicated to the orangutans that she took care of Peanut (pictured) while she was going through chemo for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The orangutan came through the ordeal and is now cancer free.