QB Chris Simms and his fellow adventurers found yet another way to get up close and personal with wildlife on Friday
Chris Simms wrapped up his three-part "Wild Adventures" series on Friday when he accompanied a dozen kids from The Children's Home to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback developed his exotic new program out of a love for children, nature and animals.
The Busch Gardens expedition marked the third and final educational outing for Simms and his Wild Adventures participants. The group's first trip brought them face to face with exotic cats at the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa where they learned about many different feline species. On their second journey, Simms and the children visited Fantasy Island, a small land mass used by the Florida Aquarium to teach people about marine life.
Friday's visit to Busch Gardens capped off the series in exciting fashion. This was no ordinary theme park visit; Simms and the children enjoyed a behind-the-scenes conservation program provided by the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.
The day began with a Serengeti Safari Truck Tour, one of the park's most interactive exhibits. As the truck entered the open plain where exotic animals roam freely, Tango the giraffe was waiting for a snack. Simms and the kids were able to feed both Tango's appetite and her curiosity as they gave her lettuce when she stuck her head in the back of the truck for a closer view. As the safari tour continued, the group rode right beside free-roaming zebra, antelopes and endangered rhinos.
After the safari, Simms and the children headed to the Nairobi Field Station to walk around in the flamingo habitat and become acquainted with these tropical birds. The group then settled into an outdoor picnic area where they received private introductions to a hedgehog, a three-toed sloth, a Burmese python and a warthog.
The children were eager to touch the animals and learn more about their natural habitats, eating habits and behavior patterns. Of course, "eager" is a relative term; not everyone in the group was dying for a hands-on interaction with each of the above animals. In fact, it took the extent of their powers of persuasion for the children to eventually coax Simms into taking a picture with them in front of the 85-pound python which was stretched out on the ground in front of them.
"This was a great learning experience for myself as well as the kids," Simms said of the animal introductions, apparently forgetting his earlier trepidation. "It was a great chance to get outside in the nice weather and have some fun."
The Wild Adventures program came naturally to Simms, as it incorporates two of his favorite things in life.
"I enjoy being around kids a lot, and probably second to that is animals," he said. "I just figured they were a perfect match. The kids seemed to really enjoy the program, and I know I have."
While the impending NFL season may mark the end of their Wild Adventures in 2006, Simms knows he hasn't seen the last of his young friends. Each year, the Buccaneers Rookie Club visits The Children's Home for a Halloween party, complete with pumpkin carving. Simms has attended the Halloween party every year since his rookie campaign and plans to do it again this year.
"I know I'm going to see the kids at Halloween when we carve the pumpkins, and I'm sure we'll try to get together at least one or two more times after that," Simms said. "The kids are so pure at heart, and it keeps me pure at heart, too."