Naples, Florida, United States of America
The Naples Zoo began as a tropical garden that was planted in 1919. Is wasn’t until 1969 that it opened as a zoo on 43 acres of land, and today it is home to more than 70 species of both exotic and native animals. The one mile loop guests can walk is filled with lush garden like surroundings and open exhibits to view the zoos animal inhabitants.
One of the most unique areas in the zoo is the islands on which some of the primates live, surrounded by a freshwater lake. Guests have the opportunity to take the Primate Expedition Cruise, a catamaran that leaves the dock at Lake Victoria to take them around the island to view the curious apes and monkeys living on the islands. There are four species of lemur, primates indigenous to Madagascar, gibbons, and black-handed spider monkeys who will delight guests with their high flying antics in the trees rising from each island. The cruise is 15 to 20 minutes long and is included in the price of admission. Guests can take the cruise as many times as they like.
At Alligator Bay, visitors will meet some of the animals that are well known to Florida natives. Surrounded by coconut palms and lush plants, the American Alligators swim about and sun themselves on the sandy beaches or one of the islands of their habitat. Daily, guests can learn about these often misunderstood giant reptiles, and can witness their power during a feeding demonstration. Although no longer highly endangered, alligators live in close proximity with humans in many areas, and these educational talks go a long way to continue preserving these great American hunters.
At the African Oasis, guests can get up close and personal with some more gentle giants, the Reticulated Giraffe. Every day, there is an opportunity to hand feed one of these towering but gentle creatures, assisted by a keeper. Also on hand to view if not touch are Red River Hogs, Crested African Porcupines, Damas Gazelle, Greater Kudus, and leopard tortoises. Africa’s big cats, the majestic African Lion, can be found at Lions Lair. And Leopard rock features other gorgeous big cats, both the spotted and black leopard.
Florida is home to another big cat, and one that is highly endangered: the Florida Panther. These can be found in Panther Glade, an exhibit that allows guests a close up look at these beautiful cats through glass windows. With less than 100 of these elusive cats left in the wild, the Naples Zoo offers a rare opportunity to view them and learn about what is being done to bring them back from the brink of extinction.
At Black Bear Hammock, guests will find two different habitats that recreate both the bear natural environment and one that mimics a “backyard”. The exhibit is 30 times larger than the American Zoological Association, and is the largest of its type in the Eastern United States. While viewing the black bears that are native to many parts of the US, including Florida, guests can also learn tips on how to handle a bear encounter in the wild as well as how to avoid attracting bears to one’s own backyard.
The American Zoological Association, or AZA, has many programs that assist in conserving endangered species, both native to America and from places around the globe. The Naples Zoo is assisting in a species plan of a great cat from a distant land, the Malayan Tiger, featured in the Tiger Forest section of the zoo. The three tigers at the zoo are part of a group of only fifty that resides in the entire country, and only 500 left in the wild in their native range. As ambassadors for their wild counterparts, the tigers help raise interest and awareness of the plight their species is facing as a whole. The presence of them at the zoo also helps raise funds to assist the Wildlife Conservation Society that works globally to protect the remaining wild tigers through education, captive breeding that can preserve genetic diversity, and other conservation efforts.
Other experiences offered at the Naples Zoo include a Backyard Habitat area sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, Meet the Keeper opportunities throughout the day, a show about reptiles called Fangs and Fiction, and the Planet Predator Show, a film and live presentation at the Safari Open Air Theater. The Planet and Predator show includes both footage of predators in the wild and a chance to see some of them in person on the stage, live!