Zoo Miami (formerly known as Miami MetroZoo) is another testament to the fact that the city of Miami loves its animals. The Miami MetroZoo is the largest and oldest zoological garden in the state with a history that reaches back to the 1940’s and a current collection that includes more than 2,000 animals. It also has the noted distinction of being the only subtropical zoo in the continental United States.
Zoo Miami had a very unusual beginning as a small road show became stranded near Miami and the owner decided it was best to sell his main attractions, three monkeys, one goat, and two black bears. The animals were purchased and brought to the island of Key Biscayne where the Crandon Park Zoo was established. The zoo grew and more animals were acquired, in fact by 1967 the zoo’s collection had expanded to around 1,200 animals and it was rated one of the top 25 zoos in the United States. It was during this year that the Crandon Park Zoo became noted throughout the world for successfully having a captive birth of an aardvark and its subsequent rearing. That year the zoo also received a pair of Asian elephants who in time produced three offspring, which is still an uncommon event. The following year the Crandon Park Zoo continued its collecting with a white tiger, the second to be brought into the United States. And in 1970 more rare animals arrived, a pair of Indian rhinos and the first Key deer taken out of the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.
But all wasn’t rosy with the Crandon Park Zoo, in 1965 Hurricane Betsy dumped more than three feet of water on the entire zoo and killed at least 250 animals. This caused great concern and talk of developing a new zoo and when the Richmond Naval Air Station became available Dade County applied to purchase this land for a new zoo. Zoo plans progressed and the first construction began in 1975. The Preview Center opened to the public in 1980 with twelve exhibits but the grand opening wasn’t until 1981 when 38 different exhibits were complete and spanned 200 acres. The Miami MetroZoo continued to add acreage and exhibits, expanding and growing.
And then tragedy struck again in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit. More than 5,000 trees were lost and the 1.5 acre aviary and its inhabitants were destroyed. The zoo reopened by the end of the year but it had changed greatly. Since then the zoo has worked diligently to not only repair the damage but to improve the zoo and add more animals and encounters for visitors.
Currently the zoo is broken into four different sections, the African Exhibit, the Asian Exhibit, the Australian Exhibit and the future home of the Tropical Americas Exhibit. But within the sections are a number of highlights.
The Amazon & Beyond Exhibit brings Central and South America to you with this 27 acre segment featuring more than 100 species with a total of more than 600 new animals. Within this park segment are an additional three surrounding areas the Village Plaza takes you into these regions with a look at rare eco regions, Cloud Forest with its islands in the sky ecosystems, Amazonia and its flooded riverbanks and continual rain, and the Atlantic Forest and Pantanal which are two similar ecosystems with some of the most amazing animals on the planet.
Another highlight of Zoo Miami is the American Bankers Family Aviary, Wings of Asia. This habitat brings together a huge collection of diverse species from a variety of environments and habitats, some of the inhabitants are so rare they’re only available at the Miami MetroZoo due to its heavy involvement in the Species Survival Program. The aviary has a few different regions, the Field Research Center traces the proposed evolution of dinosaurs to modern birds with interactive exhibits, the Potamkin Conservation Center gives guests a look at aquatic birds from above and below the water, and finally the Asian center with more than 300 exotic, rare and endangered Asian birds. Stretching over more than 54,000 square feet this is the largest open air Asian aviary in the Western Hemisphere.
The Merchantil Commercebank Children’s Zoo lets people get up close and personal with a huge variety of animals. Humpy’s Camel Rides let children explore a traditional form of transportation that is often a once in a lifetime chance for many American children. Toadstool is an exhibit room that is full of small reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Zookeepers will remove some of the reptiles for a hands on experience. The Petting Zoo is another opportunity to get to touch and interact with some of the zoo’s inhabitants. At Zoo Scene Investigations at the Children’s Zoo stage you can help solve animal mysteries and meet some of the animals in the zoo. These presentations occur three times a day and feature a variety of exhibited animals.
The Miami MetroZoo has a variety of transportation options available for those who want to explore the zoo in a different way. The Monorail is air conditioned and makes four stops throughout the zoo, it’s a great and easy way to get from place to place. The Safari Cycle Rentals has two sized cycles, the small cycles can fit up to three adults and two small children and the large cycles will hold up to six adults and two children. And for a tour with more, there are Asia and Africa Safari Tram Tours narrated by well versed park employees.
If you’d like a real unique experience that will leave lasting memories, sign up for the Zookeeper for a Day program which allows you to spend a full day working alongside a zookeeper as their tend to their daily chores. Learn to identify and evaluate animals and help when possible. Or sign up for an overnight stay at the Zoo Miami. Groups can arrange to spend the night at the zoo in a sleepover program that includes personalized behind the scenes tours of exhibits and a morning activity.
Photo credit: Michele Eve