Jacksonville Zoo Most Recent Date of Visit: June 29, 2015 I have been visiting the Jacksonville Zoo almost my whole life and have distinct memories of most sections in the zoo opening. One of the best things about the zoo is, as far as I know, there is not an exhibit in the zoo that predates 1993 so it is all new and modern. The facility also has strong geographic representation and loops for all the major continents. However some sections are much better than others and while nothing here feels grossly outdated not all of it is amazing. Also, since it is a southern zoo, it is almost exclusively outside and the lush vegetation provides great atmosphere. Excellent Range of the Jaguar- The zoo’s signature exhibit that is almost certainly the most extensive and best South American complex in the country. An enormous, incredibly detailed and elaborate Latin American plaza is the centerpiece of the complex and all the exhibits break off of it. Two large netted jaguar habitats have tons of water for the cats to swim in and vertical space for them to climb. The only complaint that can be made for these exhibits is they definitely use the notorious ruined temple theme but they do it here in a way that enriches the jaguars by letting them climb. Logs and vegetation are abundant in the habitats and an underwater viewing is quite spectacular. It is definitely the best jaguar exhibit I’ve seen and the only one I think that could possibly rival it is Woodland Park’s Jaguar Cove. Inside the well-designed Lost Temple are excellent terrariums for anacondas, caiman lizards, poison dart frogs, golden frogs and bushmasters. Also, sloths live in a standard dark exhibit, cotton top tamarins have a nice habitat and marmosets have a small enclosure. Outside the Lost Temple giant anteaters live in a decent sized exhibit with a nice pool in it. They share the exhibit with howler monkeys, who could really use more climbing opportunities and the exhibit could use more vegetation. Baird’s tapirs, capybaras and saki monkeys share a smallish habitat that is probably the biggest weakness to the section. However, like the anteaters, it has an underwater viewing. The Emerald Forest is a lush walkthrough habitat with tons of South American birds and at the back a nice river otter exhibit can be viewed with underwater viewing. Overall this complex is quite brilliant and what a South American section should be. Land of the Tiger- The zoo’s newest exhibit that brought tigers back to the collection after a 20 year absence. It is a very impressive addition to the zoo and one of the best tiger exhibits I have seen. My favorite thing about the two habitats for the tigers is the immense amount of water they have and the amazing underwater viewing panels. The level of expertise and detail in design is incredible and the yards transport visitors to Southeast Asia. The waterfalls are quite spectacular and a good amount of bamboo and other vegetation creates a lushness to these habitats. Two other cool features are a spectacular overhead path for the tigers to walk above the guests when changing habitats and the fact both Sumatran and Malayan tigers are exhibited. In addition, the complex houses a superb Visayan warty pig exhibit that is quite immersive, a solid mixed species habitat for babirusas and Asian small-clawed otters and a nice wrinkled hornbill aviary. Good habitats for Komodo dragons are found nearby. Giraffe Overlook- This underrated exhibit doesn’t get mentioned a lot but is a terrific giraffe habitat. A huge grassy yard dotted with palm trees and a few rocks is home to a huge herd of giraffes. There is plenty of room for them to roam and the habitat is absolutely beautiful. A smaller, more standard exhibit for klipspringers and a gorgeous garden are located in front of the exhibit. Plains of East Africa- This fairly large region is viewed through a wooden boardwalk. Warthogs live in an average-sized muddy habitat that allows them to roll around and wallow. Next door is a lush habitat for saddle-billed storks. Going up on the other side of the boardwalk is a large grassy exhibit for bongos and a variety of African birds. While it is definitely true this is not the habitat bongos inhabit in the wild (in the past it had wildebeests and impala among others), it is nice to see them have so much space and they often can be found hiding in the shaded corners. The flocks of birds are hugely impressive and it is great to see so many storks up in the trees. Across a duckweed lake cheetahs can be seen in a shaded habitat with a decent amount of space and room for them to run as well as opportunities for them to find privacy. The real gem of the complex can be seen at the gazebo in the boardwalk, which is an absolutely massive habitat for white rhinoceroses, greater kudus and ostriches. The sprawling habitat is quite open and grassy with a few plam trees and a great mud wallow for the rhinos. I’ve even seen the rhinos step into the lake which continues to the side of their habitat closest to the boardwalk. This could definitely be a top ten rhinoceros exhibit in the country. Okapis live in a smallish yard that is too open and not enough like a forest for the animals and zebras live in a dry shady padlock that once housed Cape buffalo. After the boardwalk turns standard habitats for leopards and colobus monkeys are exactly what you’d expect to find for these animals (topped enclosures that feel like glorified cages.) Mahali Pa Simba- A very good lion exhibit that is surrounded by water on two sides. It has a good mix of open and shaded areas with a lot of trees in the middle. A huge mound/small hill allows the king of beasts a nice place to rest and have a good view. The habitat is decently naturalistic and quite solid. Play Park- Home to exhibits for squirrel monkeys and penguins. The squirrel moneky habitat has plenty of ropes for them to play with and climbing opportunities. Tuxedo Coast houses a colony of megallenic penguins in a rocky shores-themed habitat. The pool is quite big and it is a fairly good exhibit for the popular birds. River Valley Aviary- A very nice aviary at the front of the zoo that mostly houses African birds. Species present include lesser flamingos, spoonbills, rollers, turacos, palm-nut vultures, bustards, eagle-owls and storks. Average Elephant Plaza- While far from the worst and containing a large deep pool, the African elephant habitat is ultimately average. It has enough grass but is not huge and lacks the level of naturalism and enrichment I like to see in a pachyderm exhibit. Average enclosures for klipspringer/hyrax/birds and vultures are found next door. A small African reptile house features mambas, cobras and pythons. Wild Florida- A relatively generic, uninspired section. It starts out strong with a solid, duckweed-filled habitat for American alligators and a small Florida reptile area has decent terrariums. A black bear habitat is average at best with not enough vegetation, enrichments or space for the bears. Hopefully the recent renovation improved the quality of this exhibit. A Florida panther exhibit is similar to the black bear one in terms of quality and size. Red wolves have a thin, shaded habitat, Key deer have a decent exhibit, bobcats have a disgraceful cage and a bald eagle aviary is quite nice. Australia- Just as boring and forgettable as any other Australian exhibit. A decent but generic habitat has kangaroos and emus while cassowaries have a standard yard. An amphibian center is in the building that used to house koalas. Poor Great Apes of the World- Possibly the worst complex opened at a major zoo in the past 20 years. A gorilla exhibit is definitely large enough but awful in terms of naturalism and enrichment. It basically is a barren grassland with a godawful ugly gray backdrop. A few palm trees and one or two termite mounds are found but this does not make up for the sparsity of vegetation and shocking lack of enrichments found. Bonobos live in a smaller similar habitat next door with very few enrichments or climbing opportunities. Both of these habitats are in need of overhaul or drastic renovation. Siamangs live in a tall cage, mandrills inhabit an average open enclosure and lemurs have a so-so island. For it being only around 18 years old this complex is shockingly weak and frankly quite ugly and devoid of enrichment for the primates. The zoo’s Achilles heel. The Jacksonville Zoo is one of the best zoos in the southeast and has a shot at being a top 20 zoo in the nation. The Range of the Jaguar, Land of the Tiger and Giraffe Overlook are brilliant and most of the rest of the zoo is at least average. If they improve the apes area and add a new exhibit this zoo could be even better.