It's all about the experience

Gainesville, Fla., is well known for two things: the University of Florida and the University of Florida sports teams.

Though many don't see it, this "college town" has activities and events just waiting to be discovered.

There are so many things to explore in Gainesville and the surrounding areas, yet so many worthwhile activities and attractions fly under the radar, only heard of through word-of-mouth.

If you listen closely and keep your eyes open, it is possible to find educational animal experiences hiding in plain sight.

Gainesville is home to the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo. Williston houses the Two Tails Ranch, owned and operated by world-known elephant trainer Patricia Zerbini. In Alachua, visitors can find the Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek Farm, where older horses that have provided a service to the community or that have been abused or abandoned can go live out their days on rolling green hills.

Though these places are much smaller in scale than Disney's Animal Kingdom or the San Diego Zoo, what they lack in size they more than make up for with character.

While exploring these three locations, I saw the kind of impact just one person can make, be it good or bad, in the lives of animals, and saw just how damaged some animals truly are, through no fault of their own. I also saw animals that have had amazing lives and who are treated with astonishing care.

Sadly, the best and worst of life is apparent when learning about different places. With the good, there always seems to be some kind of bad lurking in the background.

These animals, and the people who care for them, have a story to tell. They have lessons to teach us. You only need to give them your attention.

peacock

The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo has many peacocks freely roaming.

Bunny

Bunny, a female Asian elephant at Two Tails Ranch.

field

One of the rolling green pastures at the Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek Farm.

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