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.