Miami, Florida, United States of America
Zoo Miami or Miami MetroZoo began in 1948 as the Crandon Park Zoo with a handful of animals that were purchased from a local roadshow. The three monkeys, 2 black bears and a goat were soon joined by some lions, an elephant and a rhinoceros that were stranded when a traveling circus went under, as well as monkeys, a Galapagos turtle and some pheasants donated by a local plantation. The menagerie continued to grow, and by 1967 the zoo was home to more than 1200 animals on its 40 plus acres in Key Biscayne. With the devastating effects of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, however, the zoo closed and eventually reopened on property on the Richmond Naval Air Station base as Zoo Miami in 1980.
Zoo Miami is the largest and oldest zoo in Florida, and utilities more than 300 of its total 740 acres for over 100 exhibits. The zoo is the only tropical zoo in the United States, and is regularly listed as one of the country’s Top 10 zoos. It is home to over 2000 animals from 500 different species. There are three miles of walking paths, so the zoo offers hourly narrated tours from a tram; one focuses on animals from Asian, and the other takes guests on an African tour.
Wings of Asia is a free flight enclosure that houses 70 species of birds. The aviary is the largest open air aviary in the Western Hemisphere, and features cranes, rails, parrots, songbirds of all kinds. The zoo is also home to Harpy Eagles, but with talons the size of a grizzly bears claw and a wingspan of up to 6 feet, these birds of prey won’t be found in the aviary! The zoo is also actively involved with conservation of these giant birds in Panama, and has raised thousands of dollars for the research facility there.
The Asian section of the zoo holds many exotic creatures from the world’s largest continent, including the small-clawed otter, snow leopards and blood pythons. In this area, guest will find the Kaziranga Camp Rhinoceros Encounter, where for a small fee visitors can get up close to the unique and endangered Indian Rhinoceros. Guests are able to touch and even brush the animals, learning what their “suit of armor” feels like. Other exciting animals to visit are the tigers, the orangutans, Asian elephants, sloth bears, Arabian Oryx and camels. There is even an opportunity to take a ride on a camel, also considered “ships of the desert” in some parts of the world.
In “Africa”, resides the largest member of the gorilla family, the lowland gorilla, and guests can view a Silverback and his family up close through glass windows. Other great apes, the chimpanzees are close by as well. Other unusual African mammals to visit include the Giant Eland, the largest of the antelopes, and the beautiful and strange Okapi, the only living relative of the giraffe. Pygmy hippos are also featured in this part of the zoo, including a female youngster born in the winter of 2010. Reticulated giraffes wander about a large enclosure, but are always willing to take treats from guests at the designated feeding stations.
The Amazon and Beyond area of the zoo is one of the newest sets of exhibits, and covers 27 acres. It is divided into four sections, The Village Plaza, The Cloud Forest, Amazonia, and the Atlantic Forest. These sections features animals from different ecosystems in the America’s, and they include Jaguars, anacondas, Giant River otters, stingrays, and Iguana’s, just to name a few. After visitors experience the wonders of the America’s, they can head to “Australia” and hang out with koalas, red kangaroos, tree kangaroos, and even New Guinea singing dogs. In this Australian themed area there is also an Amphitheatre where different shows are featured throughout the day.
For smaller visitors, there is a children’s zoo, and also a chance to have a “Meet and Greet” with Diego, star of the Nickelodeon show of the same name in the Amazon and Beyond area of the zoo. Throughout the day, there are also educational keeper talks about many of the most popular animals, not limited to but including jaguars, tigers, harpy eagles, Giant River Otters, lions, Asian Elephants and Asian bears. For an additional fee, guests can take a behind the scenes tour, and there are five different tours from which to choose. Some bring guests close to Indian Rhinoceros, some up close with various big cats, or cuddly koalas. The zoo also offers overnights, and a chance to be a zookeeper for a day!