By Nathalie Bonney
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Videographer / director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: John Balson, Nick Johnson
Editor: Ian Phillips
Kangaroos, tigers and gibbons would never form friendships with one another in the wild, but at Dade City's Wild Things, the baby animals are encouraged to interact.
From feeding to changing nappies, zoo director Kathy Stearns and her team are kept busy looking after their adopted fur children.
Like all babies, the animals demand a lot of affection, but as well as competing for Kathy’s attention, they are equally happy playing with each other.
Kathy, 56, said: "They’re pretty good friends, they play and tug of war and irritate each other.
“They can have happy moments, they can also get jealous of each other and compete for our attention - they also love, it’s very important that they do love.
"These are actually like siblings playing together or playmates in a schoolyard.”
Unlike animals raised in the wild, animals born in captivity don’t have the same survival instinct that turns them into dangerous hunters.
Kathy said: “That’s why you can raise multiple species together – it’s just playmates. They’re never really taught to hunt because they have plenty of food.”
Although Kathy would never put an adult kangaroo and tiger together, she says there is no danger in letting eight-month old joey Whelan hang out with the zoo’s new tiger cubs.
At only a few weeks old, the newest cubs are only starting to open their eyes but will be more active in the coming weeks.
In their busier moments, the cubs play tumble with the joey, before settling down for feeding time where they all enjoy a special milk formula with added vitamins and nutrients.
Because the tigers are bred in captivity, Kathy insists it is important for them to learn social skills.
She said: “In the wild their whole focus in life is defending territory, hunting and killing. In captivity it’s totally different.
"These animals have to develop social skills instead, which is really important to give them enrichment and entertain themselves.
“Because they’re all just babies it’s an opportunity for them all to interact with one another.
“In the zoo they’ll have all these smells and characters so it’s good for them to check them out.”
Visitors to the zoo, which is home to over 300 species of animals, have the chance to interact with the animals in special one-on-one encounters, including the chance to swim with baby tigers and alligators.
Dade City is also involved in research and preservation - breeding animals that are at severe risk of extinction in the wild, such as tigers and gibbons.
Gibbons Sara and Jeremiah have been brought to Dades City from Asia with the hope that they will eventually breed together. At the moment however they are still in nappies.
Kathy said: “People always ask me why do you put diapers on them? Well because I don’t like changing my shirt all the time.
"They don’t grow up until they are eight-years-old.
“Sarah is only a year and Jeremiah a year and a half so they’ve got some growing to do, getting to know each other and hopefully falling in love."