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When most of us think about places to see animals in North Carolina, we think about The North Carolina Zoo, The North Carolina Aquariums and maybe the The Western North Carolina Nature Center. But there are many other hidden gems across the state where we can see all kinds of animals, some native to North Carolina and some much more exotic. After visiting many locations across the state with my family, these are my top five favorites.

Sylvan Heights Bird Park

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Image: James LaCorte

Image: James LaCorte

This bird park is hidden behind acres of farmland in Halifax County. The parking lot and building seem generic, but once you walk into the 18 acre park, you’re struck by just how beautiful and unique the place really is. The park is divided into aviaries of birds from different continents: South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

While walking the park and viewing these birds fascinates kids and adults, the major attraction is the landing zone. This area offers visitors the opportunity to interact with parakeets, parrots, flamingos, toucans and other birds. You can pet and feed the birds. But the most fun is when the parakeets land on you.

Carolina Raptor Center

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Photo credit: Carolina Raptor Center

Photo credit: Carolina Raptor Center

Thirty minutes from Charlotte is a refuge for over 100 raptors including eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, corvids and yes, even the ubiquitous vultures. The center is focused on educating the public, rescuing birds and releasing birds back into the wild.

Besides the nature trail, there are other more involved opportunities including the “keeper of the day” program, summer camps, birthday parties, even the chance to participate in releasing birds back into the wild. And of course, photographers will find a photo op at every turn.

Carolina Tiger Rescue

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Photo credit: James LaCorte

Photo credit: James LaCorte

If you’re ever in Pittsboro and hear a tiger growl, don’t worry, it’s not on the loose. You’re hearing one of the residents of Carolina Tiger Rescue. This place amazes kids of all ages. The sanctuary’s purpose is to rescue wildcats, provide them a healthy sanctuary and educate the public about the need to protect these most noble beasts. If you’d like to visit, tours must be scheduled in advance.

Shackleford Banks

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Photo credit: National Park Planner

Photo credit: National Park Planner

A wild horse is one of the most potent symbols of freedom, and seeing one in person is a thrilling experience. No one knows for sure how the wild horses ended up on the island of Shackleford Banks.

Experts think they either swam to shore after shipwrecks or were left behind by explorers after failed attempts to settle on the island. DNA testing has revealed they are descended from Spanish mustangs and for over 400 years, they’ve roamed Shackleford Banks. To see them for yourself, drive to the coast, take a ferry to Cape Lookout National Seashore and explore these marvelous creatures in the wild. Because they are wild, feeding or petting the animals is prohibited. But photos are encouraged, so bring your camera and enjoy!

Lazy 5 Ranch

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Photo credit: Lazy 5 Ranch

Photo credit: Lazy 5 Ranch

This unique zoo in Mooresville consists of domestic and exotic animals from six continents. You can view the animals by walking the grounds, driving your car or taking a wagon ride. There are many petting areas where you can get a closer look at the animals and even feed them as well! It’s a magical place. There’s a lot to see, so plan to stay a few hours at least.

Where do you like to go to see animals in North Carolina?

About James LaCorte

James LaCorte is a Social Media Manager and has been employed with BCBSNC since 2003. He has built his career working in a variety of areas across the company. When not working you can find him kayaking a local river, photographing a nature scene, or running around with his family.

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