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Zoo Miami Put Me In The Zoo: Zoo Miami Review

Discussion in 'United States' started by DavidBrown, 6 Apr 2015.

  1. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

    12 Aug 2008
    California, USA
    Put Me In The Zoo: Zoo Miami Review

    Date of visit: January 31, 2015

    Does this zoo satisfy the reviewer’s Inner-3-Year-Old by featuring his lifelong favorite animals, giraffes and elephants?

    Zoo Miami is one of the few zoos in North America, perhaps the world, which has separate exhibits for Asian and African elephants. This zoo has reticulated giraffes.
    On a giraffe and elephant basis Zoo Miami was extremely satisfying.

    I am curious what their long-term elephant plans are as both of the elephant exhibits are relatively small (although not terrible by any means) and contain non-reproductive individuals. There was one male Asian and one female Asian, and I think three female African elephants. Will the zoo eventually focus on one elephant species, or keep both exhibits going and expand them at some point?

    Does this zoo have any animals that would excite a zoo aficionado?
    Zoo Miami has a large hoofstock collection with giant eland, southern gerenuks, sable, Arabian oryx, addax, gaur, banteng, Grant’s gazelles, Bactrian camel, okapi, Indian rhino, black rhino, pygmy hippo, Baird’s tapir, Malayan tapir, and several other species.

    They have an extensive collection of South and Central African animals including giant otters, jaguars, Orinoco crocodiles, fruit bats, night monkeys, giant Amazonian fish and turtles (help to specify which species would be appreciated if anyone cares or is interested; I wasn’t taking notes).

    Overall Zoo Miami has an impressive collection, especially of large mammals. Most of the charismatic megafauna species are here (aka ABC animals), as well as a good primate collection and a massive Asian bird collection. All of the species here are tropical or native to the southern part of North America. There are no polar animals or pinnepeds. There is no reptile or invertebrate house, but the “Amazon and Beyond” exhibits many herp, invertebrate, and fish species from South America.

    Does this zoo have any immersion exhibits that would impress a zoo aficionado?

    The zoo has a massive walk-through aviary called “Wings of Asia” which according to the zoo’s website has over 300 individual birds of over 70 species. This was at one time I think the largest aviary in the world, and maybe still is (?). It covers several different habitat zones from across Asia and is a lushly planted tropical environment. The opening of the aviary is a natural history museum about bird evolution and natural history, telling the story through artifacts and interpretive exhibits of how birds are dinosaurs. This was a very cool exhibit. The first iteration of this exhibit was destroyed by a hurricane and was renovated and rebuilt in the early 2000s into its current form.

    Beyond that there are not many (any?) immersive exhibits at this zoo, which is interesting given that it is in a semi-tropical climate and seemingly would lend itself to immersive tropical exhibits for its large collection of tropical animals. The zoo grounds themselves have some areas of lush landscaping, but overall the zoo is rather plainly landscaped.

    Does this zoo have any good basic exhibits?

    The zoo’s South America complex is called “Amazon and Beyond”. It is not at all naturalistic. The exhibits are cages, typical reptile house style terraria, and more open grotto-ish exhibits. The giant otters have a fairly naturalistic riverine exhibit that is very nice and there is a huge aquarium for Amazonian fish and turtles. This exhibit complex has a confusing layout and is separated in to different habitat zones. The interpretive exhibits, while interesting, seem way over designed and distract from some of the animal exhibits.

    Zoo Miami was built from scratch in the 1980s. Most of the exhibits are very large and well furnished for their residents. As mentioned possibly the elephant exhibits are somewhat small by modern standards, but generally the zoo’s exhibits still seemed good. Most of the exhibits are open paddocks and have few immersive features.

    Overall the zoo seems like it is composed almost entirely of good basic exhibits, with the notable exception of the massive, immersive Wings of Asia aviary.

    Does this zoo have any exhibits that should be bulldozed?

    I didn’t see any exhibits that made me go “ugh”. There is a section called Asian River Life which features clouded leopards, Komodo dragons, and water monitors. The animal sections were fine, but the whole complex seemed a bit rundown relative to the rest of the zoo. It might stand with some freshening up at some point.

    The interpretive signage of this zoo could use an overhaul. There were interpretive signs and activities EVERYWHERE, which had a lot of good information and ideas, but looked like they were from multiple different and uncoordinated interpretive campaigns. It was like walking by one of those posting areas at a college where there is so much stuff posted that no one can really read anything, or it hurts one’s head to try and read it all.

    Does this zoo have any elements that make it particularly family friendly?

    There is a children’s zoo with a goat petting contact area and camel rides. The zoo is huge and built around a loop. I can imagine that a local family might only see part of the zoo in a given visit, but the animal watching is quite easy in the large open exhibits and the backbone of the animal collection are the charismatic species that families want to see.

    Does this zoo have any interesting plans for the future?

    When I visited the zoo in January 2015 the front end of the zoo was undergoing a massive renovation to build a new entrance complex and Everglades exhibit. The Everglades exhibit will bring native Floridian animals to the zoo including American crocodiles, black bear, Florida panther, flamingos, and water bird species. From concept drawings it looks like it will have a boat ride through it and an interactive interpretive trail.

    On a side note I would encourage anyone visiting the zoos of Florida to plan a few days to visit the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress Preserve that are only a half an hour from Miami. This is one of the most spectacular wildlife sites and ecosystems on the planet. American alligators, American crocodiles, manatees, 18 species of water birds (including anhingas, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, and many heron species), and many other wildlife species can be seen with relatively little effort. The ecosystems include the largest mangrove forest on Earth, a literal “river of grass” with freshwater moving through sawgrass prairie and emptying into the estuary of Florida Bay (the only place on Earth to see alligators and crocodiles together in the wild). For $10 I got to see one of the great natural spectacles on Earth.

    Would a zoo aficionado like this zoo enough to go out of his or her way to visit it?

    Zoo Miami is a very good zoo with a great collection in mostly fine exhibits. It is one of the major zoos of North America, although seems to fly under the radar when lists of the major zoos are compiled. Any zoo tour of Florida should include Zoo Miami.

    Don’t forget to visit some of wild Florida too.
    Last edited: 7 Apr 2015
  2. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

    10 Feb 2009
    Arizona, USA
    I was there last summer and I agree I think with everything. However, for Everglades area, please note wildlife viewing in summer when I went is much diminished from viewing in winter when David went. Several staff members told me (when seeing I am a photographer) "you have to come back in winter." Seeing wild crocodiles was very nice, but overall Everglades and Big Cypress was a bit of a dud for me, especially considering the landscape is flat and there are not many landscape photo opportunities.

    As for the zoo, it was nicer than I expected. From a photographer's standpoint, one nice feature David did not mention is there are invisible moats both in front of and behind the exhibits, so there are no fences visible. The older zoo (everything before Amazon) has a very consistent feel. The Amazon seems to be a new direction, with smaller more traditional zoo exhibits and theming. I suspect Everglades exhibits will go the same way.

    I missed the (apparently stellar) bird aviary, as I ran out of time. This may be the only American zoo I have seen that offers either one or two day tickets. ZooChatters who want the full experience may want to opt for the two day. As for other nearby attractions, Flamingo Gardens has limited wildlife exhibits but is the place to go for Florida panther photos (at least until Miami opens theirs).
  3. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

    1 Dec 2007
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    Great review, as always. Here are a few comments that I have:

    - Wings of Asia is a strong contender for being one of the biggest and best aviaries to be found in any American zoo. However, in terms of size the 4-acre Simmons Aviary at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo is likely one of the largest on the planet and at 4 acres it is almost as large as several zoos that I've visited! The two enormous San Diego aviaries (Owens and Scripps) are probably closer in size to Wings of Asia.

    - I really like Zoo Miami and would rate it as one of the top 10-15 zoos in the nation. The collection of African, Asian and South American animals is top-notch and there are very few poor exhibits. The zoo must surely have more moated enclosures than just about any other on Earth and some zoo nerds have found that to be a flaw but at least there is some uniformity to proceedings.

    - Each elephant exhibit at the zoo is approximately 1.1 - 1.6 acres in size. Not large by modern standards but still far superior to many other elephant enclosures around the country.

    - In my opinion the weakest exhibits are the ones for the great apes, as the gorilla/chimpanzee/orangutan yards are all interchangeable and disappointing in comparison to others of their kind.

    - Miami Wilds, a massive theme park right next to the zoo, has been in development for years but took a closer step towards reality about 6 months ago. Check out the link below for a video and more information on the proposed facility.
  4. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

    10 Feb 2009
    Arizona, USA
    The proposed theme park is "interesting" (and by interesting I mean awful and completely out of line with the zoo's alleged mission). Florida is already one of the states with the highest rates of development and environmental degradation. This is worsened by the sensitive nature of its water based terrain. So the zoo is next to a large plot of natural pinelands, one of the only left in the greater Miami area, and the alleged conservation oriented zoo wants to bulldoze it for entertainment complexes and rides?
  5. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

    5 Jul 2008
    Dundee, Scotland (UK)
    I strongly agree with a lot of your excellent review, David.
    Wings of Asia (which I've decided is one of my favourite aviaries) is a major highlight with a fantastic species list. Other 'exciting' animals included the duikers and a lot of the reptiles & amphibians on display, especially in Amazon and Beyond.