If the kids are more trouble than a barrel of monkeys and you’re feeling a little caged up in your hotel room, it’s probably time to pay a visit to the local zoo.
A popular attraction among tourists, Florida’s zoos not only showcase wildlife native to the area, but a cross-section of species from around the world. From alligators to anacondas, parrots to penguins, a trip to the zoo is an outing both adults and children will enjoy.
The following is a look at some of the most popular zoological parks in Florida. No matter where you decide to stay during your vacation in the south, one of these zoos should be no more than a day trip away.
“Where humans are caged and monkeys run wild” is the theme behind this unique attraction that allows visitors to venture deep into the monkey’s forest. Located in Miami, this primate “biopark” is made up primarily of jungle habitats where its hairy inhabitants roam at will. Guests move through the habitats by way of screened walkways, hence the reference to caged humans.
Family-owned and operated since 1933, Monkey Jungle introduces visitors to the natural world of the apes. Four different presentations run throughout the day at 30-minute intervals and offer an insightful look into the behavior of these fascinating creatures.
Watch monkeys wade into the pool for treats in Wild Monkeys Swimming Pool. The crab-eating Macaque is a special part of this presentation. Hangin’ With Orangs introduces Mei and Rei and the rest of the Orangutan family as an ape trainer takes onlookers through a training session.
Discover the amazing intelligence of a Lowland Gorilla named King, the zoo’s gentle giant, in King Of The Jungle. The Amazonian Rainforest Feeding provides an opportunity to observe a re-created South American rainforest, alongside a guide who feeds and explains the interesting nature of rainforest animals. Monkey Jungle is located at 14805 Southwest 216th St. in Miami. For more information phone (305) 235-1611. And don’t forget – watch your fingers because all monkeys bite!
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
One of southwest Florida’s favorite family attractions is Sarasota Jungle Gardens, where acres of beautiful gardens and nature trails create a perfect tropical setting for leisurely strolls and great photography. Not only do visitors enjoy a tropical experience, they can also expect a fun-filled day of entertainment.
Bird and Reptile Shows are performed four times daily, showcasing the weird and wonderful world of these unique creatures. The bird show features talented cockatoos and macaws whose clown-like behavior is a delight for all ages. The reptile show includes a live presentation of a variety of snakes and demonstrates the behavior of the feared alligator.
As guests stroll through the gardens, they’ll see a wide variety of jungle species inhabiting the various animal exhibits. Flamingos, monkeys, lemurs, giant tortoises and leopards are just a few of the park’s inhabitants.
Additional attractions include Kiddie Jungle, where an animal farm, tiger swings and a jungle playground thrill the youngest visitors; Shell Museum, a collection featuring many rare species; and the Gift Shop and Flamingo Cafe. Sarasota Jungle Gardens can be found at 3701 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota. They can be reached at (941) 355-5305.
Along with its simple name, the ZOO has a simple goal – to entertain and educate. Home to more than 700 animals and a stunning collection of botanical gardens, this Gulf coast attraction has been steadily expanding since it opened in 1984.
The Safari Line train takes passengers on a fun-filled excursion through 30 acres of free-roaming animals. Rhinos, alligators and Pygmy hippos are just a few of the species you may spot on the tour. Another option is the Boardwalk, an elevated walkway that allows visitors to stroll through acres of animals such as gazelles, oryx and ankola cattle, and offers a close look at Gorilla Island where gorillas and chimpanzees roam freely.
Regularly scheduled shows put the spotlight on birds of prey, elephants, reptiles and other wildlife. For a visit you won’t soon forget, you can hand feed a giraffe or take a ride on Ellie the Elephant. At The Farm, children can feed and pet tame animals, and watch zookeepers tend to newborn animals in the nursery and incubator room.
Other amenities include Karibu Kitchen, which serves great food and a dining-room view of gibbon and lemur frolicking on nearby islands. The Lion’s Lair gift shop carries a wide selection of authentic African art, T-shirts, stuffed animals and unique gifts. During the Christmas season, the ZOO creates a winter wonderland that brightens the night sky with thousands of lights during Holiday Lights.
The Zoo is located at 5701 Gulf Breeze Parkway, 10 miles east of Gulf Breeze and 19 miles west of Fort Walton Beach. For more information, phone (850) 932-2229.
The Brevard Zoo
It’s the wildest neighborhood in Melbourne, a place where over 400 animals representing 120 species from around the world live in naturalistic settings. At the Brevard Zoo, found on Florida’s Space Coast, visitors are guided across elevated boardwalks that wind past areas inhabited by some of the world’s most exotic animals.
An exhibit highlighting animals native to Latin America and Florida includes the jaguar, llama, giant anteater, monkey, alligator, crocodile, bald eagle, red wolf and many more. In the Australia exhibit, a free flight aviary is a colorful melange of cockatoos, lorikeets, cockatiels and the laughing kookaburra, among others. An outback habitat houses the familiar red kangaroo, emu, wallaby and dingo.
One of the zoo’s most unique features is “Paws On” – The Animal Study Zone, an interactive environmental adventure for both children and adults. Walk into the mouth of a full-size replica whale, dig for dinosaur bones or see if you can outrun an alligator. Another fascinating display occurs at feeding time. Otters swim for their supper on Tuesday and Saturday and alligators snap up a snack Wednesdays and Sundays.
The Brevard Zoo is located at 8225 N. Wickham Rd. in Melbourne, just east of I-95 at exit 73. To learn more, phone (407) 254-9453 or visit them on the Internet at: www.brevardzoo.org.
If your travels take you in or around the Miami area, put a visit to the Miami Metrozoo at the top of your “must see” list. Five times larger than the average U.S. zoo, this 740-acre park is home to over 900 reptiles, birds and mammals representing about 260 different species.
Aside from its unique design, there are several features that distinguish this zoo from other wildlife havens. An elevated monorail, guided tram tours, wildlife show and education programs for all ages are part of the attraction. Another highlight is PAWS, the children’s zoo, where touching is part of the learning experience inside the petting yard. This is also an opportunity to hitch a ride on an elephant.
Additional highlights include the Wildlife Show, demonstrating the sharp hunting skills of the birds of prey, the flying maneuvers of the hawk and the acrobatic talents of the clouded leopard. Monorail services offer visitors an elevated view of the zoo in air-conditioned comfort. Guided tram rides include a narrated tour through the walkways.
Miami Metrozoo is located at 12400 S.W. 152nd St., in the heart of Greater Miami. Visitors can learn more by calling (305) 251-0401.
Lowry Park Zoo
Visitors to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa Bay are guaranteed a hands-on experience, particularly when they stop by Lorikeet Landing, the zoo’s newest exhibit. Brilliantly-colored lorikeets, considered the most beautiful of all parrots by many, greet guests to this free-flight aviary. Purchase a cup of nectar sold at the exhibit and you’ll have the clown-like lorikeet eating out of your hand.
This zoological park specializing in tropical and sub-tropical species is home to an assortment of wildlife, from the Komodo dragon and Caribbean flamingos to the Persian leopard and Florida manatee. The Birds of Prey show puts the hunting and flying skills of owls, hawks, eagles and falcons on display. Tell the kids it’s okay to touch when they enter Children’s Village, a petting zoo inhabited by sheep, pygmy goats and pot-bellied pigs, among others.
The Manatee Viewing Center features Florida’s gentle giants, along with dozens of other freshwater and saltwater species. Meet a host of slithering, scampering, creepy-crawly creatures in the Discovery Center, where hands-on activities enhance the learning experience.
There’s also a Jungle Carousel where kids can hop on one of 33 hand-crafted animal figures. Fountains is a great place for the younger ones to cool off. Lowry Park Zoo, phone (813) 935-8552 at 7530 North Boulevard, Tampa.
Central Florida Zoological Park
Family entertainment is the name of the game at the Central Florida Zoological Park, situated within a 109-acre park in Sanford. Lush forests provide a realistic habitat for an international cast of animals that includes felines, primates, birds, reptiles, amphibians and hoofed mammals.
Catch a glimpse of endangered cheetahs, observe the antics of colorful mandrills and marvel at the beauty of the majestic eagle.
Some of the zoo’s newest exhibits include a Lizards of the Islands exhibit featuring the New Guinea crocodile monitor, the longest lizard in the world. The endangered Grand Cayman Island rock iguana, with a total wild population of less than 50, makes its home in this conservation-conscious facility.
The Butterfly Garden is a kaleidoscope of colour, where these delicate insects swoop and flutter from plant to plant. The Herpetarium Complex offers an opportunity to get personal with over 30 species of reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. Animal Adventure features a slew of domestic creatures waiting for a hand feeding.
For those visiting the area in October, Night Sights’ Fright Nights are scheduled throughout the end of the month. Have a frightfully fun time exploring the haunted walkways of the Zoo to discover the sights, sounds and surprises of the night.
The Central Florida Zoological Park is located at 3755 N.W. Highway 17-92 at I-4 (exit 52) in Sanford. For park information, phone (407) 323-4450 or visit their Web site at: www.centralfloridazoo.org.
Panama City Beach is home to ZooWorld, where over 350 animals thrive in an environment suited to both their physical and psychological needs. More than 15 endangered species live and breed in this protected habitat, along with monkeys, alligators, camels, giraffes, reptiles, exotic birds, orangutans, jaguars and many more.
A highlight for younger visitors is the Gentle Jungle Petting Zoo – a hands-on adventure for everyone. The park also doubles as a botanical garden, incorporating 250 species of plants and trees into the lush greenery.
ZooWorld is situated at 9008 Front Beach Rd., in Panama City Beach. They can be reached at (850) 230-1243.
Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park
Though most zoos encompass acre upon acre, there’s something special about a place that keeps things a little on the smaller side. This is the case at the Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park. The intimate, 22-acre tropical zoological garden provides a safe haven for more than 400 animals, representing Australia, South and Central America, Asia and Florida.
Considered one of Palm Beach County’s top family attractions, the park is committed to the preservation of several endangered species, including the Komodo dragon, Bengal tiger, jaguar, lemur, cotton top tamarin, golden lion tamarin and Florida panther. Children will enjoy a visit to the ARK (Animals Reaching Kids), a petting area and reptile house.
The Cornell Nature Trail and shaded paved walkways are perfect for a leisurely stroll through the zoo. Or enjoy the tropical gardens and refreshments at the Treehouse Cafe.
This family-friendly attraction began in the 1950s as a barnyard zoo made up of two ducks, two chickens, a goose and a goat. Today, this fully accredited zoo is one of few in the U.S. able to exhibit animals of the tropics outdoors year-round.
Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park is located at 1301 Summit Blvd., east of I-95 between Southern and Forest Hill Boulevards in West Palm Beach. To learn more, phone (561) 533-0887 or call the 24-hour hot line at (561) 547-WILD.
Jacksonville Zoological Gardens
The 73-acre Jacksonville Zoological Gardens is the only zoological park in northeast Florida. From the Zulu-crafted thatched roof on the Main Camp Safari Lodge to the New Great Apes of the World exhibit with species including western lowland gorillas, bonobos, lemurs and pygmy marmosets, the Jacksonville Zoo is continually growing and evolving.
Construction of the New Florida Wetlands exhibit will begin this fall featuring native Florida animals and plants.
The Birds of the Rift Valley Aviary is home to 72 birds of 20 different species in a setting similar to the wilds of East Africa. The four-storey enclosure allows birds such as the gold-breasted starling and yellow-billed stork to enjoy free flight in a natural environment.
As you stroll along the 1,400-foot boardwalk overlooking the Plains of East Africa, you’ll notice a vast collection of African wildlife inhabiting large, open-air habitats. Nile crocodiles, warthogs, antelope, cheetahs, both white and black rhinos, Cape buffalo and the Masai ostrich make up several of the exhibits.
Seronera Overlook offers an intimate view of elephants in their 275,000-gallon pool. Mahali Pa Simba (“Place of the Lion” in Swahili) is a one-acre home for lions with nearby monkeys, leopards, giraffes and zebras.
For something a little tamer, travel along the boardwalk in Okavango Village to a petting area where guests can feed domestic animals found in an African village, or visit the Baby Animal Nursery.
Florida Zoo guests can also enjoy shows, animal encounters, behind the scenes tours and train rides around the Zoo.
Jacksonville Zoological Gardens can be found at 8605 Zoo Parkway, Jacksonville or call (904) 757-4462.