Animals & Money: Cheap staycation wildlife options close to home

As the summer of the staycation draws to a close, you may be looking for something, anything fun to do around home that doesn't cost a lot of money. My big hobby is going places to see wild animals. And I'm certainly not alone.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2006 recreation survey says 87 million Americans now actively watch wildlife, many going on long trips. That's more than hunt (12.5 million), though lots of hunters are wildlife watchers, too. As a hobby I'm trying to map them out on a website animaltourism.com.

The most satisfying way to see animals is in the wild, which is also the toughest, requiring knowledge, patience and luck. If you're thinking of a trip with kids, you probably don't want to have to try to keep them quietly waiting for hours with a good chance of disappointment. So, the next best thing are wildlife rehabilitation facilities and sanctuaries for exotic animals. For the little kids, even farm animals are a big thrill.