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Busch Gardens Tampa – Egypt: Edge of Africa

Rating: * * * * *
Type: Brilliant animal habitat
Time: Continuous viewing
Short Take: Up close and personal with lions and hippos

Edge of Africa is an animal habitat to rival Myombe. Here, on a looping trail that evokes a number of African themes, are displayed a compact colony of adorable meerkats, a pride of lions, a pack of hyenas, a few hippos, and a troop of ring-tailed lemurs. The genius of the design is in the glass walls that allow you, literally, to come nose to nose with some of these animals.

The best display is built around the metaphor of a scientific encampment on the Serengeti that has been invaded by lions or hyenas (the zoo operation alternates these species in the exhibit). Two Land Rovers are built into the glass wall that separates you from the beasts, allowing you to climb into the vehicles and re-create an actual safari experience. At feeding time, the handlers drop meat morsels into the enclosure from above the Land Rovers, encouraging the animals to climb into the backs and onto the hoods of the vehicles. The effect is breathtaking as you sit a hand’s breadth away from these snarling carnivores.

The hippo exhibit evokes an African river village with the huts raised over the water on stilts. The viewing area is nicely shaded by the huts and the extensive glass wall allows a terrific underwater perspective on these beasts. While they may seem lumbering on land, under water they are surprisingly graceful as they lope past swarms of freshwater tropical fish. One visitor compared them to flying pigs.

The key to really enjoying Edge of Africa is to come at feeding time when the animals will be at their most active and most visible. At other times they will most likely be off relaxing in the shade somewhere. The attendants doing the feeding are all experienced animal handlers who are more than happy to share their extensive knowledge with you, so don’t be shy about asking questions. Unfortunately, there is no regular feeding schedule. Feeding times are varied to mimic, to some small extent, life in the wild, where animals can never predict when (or even if) their next meal is coming.

The solution is to ask the attendants at the attraction when feeding time will be. You may have to be persistent and you must also be willing to drop whatever you’re doing elsewhere in the park to return at the appointed time. Take it from me, it’s worth it.

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