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Southeast Zoo Trip Report & Reviews

Discussion in 'United States' started by SusScrofa, 23 Jan 2023.

  1. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

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    I am currently in the midst of a week long, zoo-focused road trip around the southeast, covering northern Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Having lots of free time until the start of February and already in Daytona Beach, FL for an unrelated event - I decided this would be the perfect time for trying my first zoocentric trip in an area with many zoos not commonly discussed (I technically did some site-seeing and tourist spots as well, but zoological facilities will by far be the majority of stop-overs). I so far visited 9 zoological facilities ranging from AZA to small nature centers and I plan on visiting at a few more, although this will depend on weather and other factors.

    I was originally going to start the thread after the trip, but the weather is absolutely terrible in SC right now and I'm stuck in the hotel so I'm starting this thread early. I will post reviews in the coming days. This trip isn't on the scale of the really large ones other members have done and it will include a number of smaller facilities.

    Here is a previous trip thread I made ;
    My Northeast trip

    This time, I will actually try to review every place I visited.
     
  2. Persephone

    Persephone Well-Known Member

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    Oooh nice. My old neck of the woods. In SC Brookgreen Gardens, Ripley’s at Myrtle, and Riverbanks are all quite good. Greenville and the South Carolina Aquarium are skippable in my opinion. Which is a shame because I much prefer Charleston to Myrtle. Some really good beaches in that area that aren’t too crowded, although it isn’t a great season for that. If you’re in Columbia, SC I can give you food recs in the thread or via DM.

    Can’t speak to northern Florida beyond my love for the Tallahassee Museum and Wakulla Springs. (Go to Wakulla Springs if at all possible. Seriously.) Both the Atlanta facilities are excellent, of course.

    Looking forward to seeing your thoughts!
     
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  3. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

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    I didn't hit Myrtle Beach, but I did Riverbanks today and will be doing Greenville on my way to Atlanta :) I appreciate the food advice offer, but for this trip I'm pretty much sticking to hotel breakfasts and homemade sandwiches and the occasional fast-food, gotta save at least *some* money and no fun for me eating out solo anyways.
     
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  4. PSO

    PSO Well-Known Member

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    I hope your doing both ATL zoological attraction, easily done in one day. And impressive.
     
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  5. biggest_dreamer

    biggest_dreamer Well-Known Member

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    South Carolinian here! Can't wait to see your reviews. 9 facilities seems like a lot for the area especially given the timeframe... That sounds about like the total number I've been to across SC/Georgia.
     
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  6. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

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    I already did both a few years ago, but do plan on revisiting Zoo Atlanta. GA Aquarium is the superior facility of the two and this is coming from someone who isn't that much of an aquarium guy, but I kinda feel like my one time was enough. I'm however curious to see how the zoo holds up after visiting a lot more over the last couple of years. Also the zoo has AZA reciprocity, so it'll be more affordable ;)

    Hope you'll enjoy them once I start :) Just to be clear, it'll be more than 9 facilities spread out through SC, GA and FL. And it includes not just traditional AZA-accredited zoos, but also non-accredited zoos (incl "roadsides"), nature centers, sanctuaries etc.
     
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  7. SwampDonkey

    SwampDonkey In the Swamp Premium Member 5+ year member

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    Thanks for doing this, as it is also my home region, I am interested in what you see. ATL is on my list in July, I have not been to the zoo there before. I'll be going back to the aquarium, but I have not been there since sometime around 2011.
     
    Last edited: 24 Jan 2023
  8. PSO

    PSO Well-Known Member

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    If you saw the most recent Shark exhibit then yes I can understand skipping it. I went nearly 10 years between GA Aquarium visits. The zoo however is one of the few I feel has not homogenized and has gotten better in both species exhibited and the enclosures themselves. My only complaint is they switched out black rhino for white rhino
     
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  9. StoppableSan

    StoppableSan Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Honestly I'm kinda split on the new African Savanna development. On the one hand, it was either "go big or go home" with the elephants, and the resulting elephant space is actually quite nice. On the other hand, they not only got rid of a good chunk of the old "Masai Mara" theme, but I personally they also bastardized the giraffe/zebra/ostrich/antelope yard as well aestheticswise. I'm sure husbandrywise it may be better, but... OOF, what a downgrade. A decent panoramic vista of black rhino, giraffe and zebra along a clay riverbank giving way to an underwhelming fenced yard with a paver-lined pathway. Whoopee.
     
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  10. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

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    Ahem, without further adieu....


    Tree Hill Nature Center
    "The journey begins"

    Location: Jacksonville, FL
    Type: Nature Center/Petting Zoo
    Cost: $5

    My first stop on the trip was at Jacksonville’s Tree Hill Nature Center. I personally love visiting local community facilities. They may not be the largest or flashiest places, but they give me a glimpse of the local natural history and I often meet plenty of friendly and dedicated staff, not to mention seeing the occasional native herp or bird rarely displayed at mainstream zoos. This particular facility has many the typical offerings of a nature center, with a nice visitor building featuring all sorts of nature-related exhibits, from taxidermy dioramas to fossils, including a huge mammoth skull mounted to one of the walls.

    [​IMG]

    There are some live animal exhibits here as well, including ones not very typical for small nature centers. One such surprise is the “Rattlesnake Conservancy” exhibit. Now, this is certainly not the flashiest display, its essentially just a lab room holding individuals from all of Florida’s native venomous pit vipers. What stands out here is them holding venomous snakes; all of the small local nature centers I’ve visited don’t hold such types of dangerous animals. While the species have been seen many times by a regular zoo visitor like myself, I really do appreciate how they display all of the states native deadly serpents and it really stands out as a very valuable educational resource. Quality of the indoor exhibits as a whole are rather typical pet-shop style terrariums, and many enclosures contain duplicates of species.

    Tree Hill’s outdoor section also has a few animal exhibits, notably a small petting zoo area with goats, chickens and pigs. Also another feature I don’t see often at nature centers. The highlight of this section and my visit to Tree Hill as a whole would easily have to be the two playful Kunkune piglets that ran up to me as I approached their pen, snorting and waiting to have their belly’s rubbed. The goats, who weren’t quite as friendly, have a nice exhibit with multiple pens connected via an overhead bridge. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter the pens, so all petting can only be done from the fences. Among the few non-domestics exhibited outside are American Alligators, with two different enclosures. One contained a couple of very young individuals in a very small and dried out habitat.

    [​IMG]

    A second enclosure for one slightly older individual was more adequate. In addition to the animals, there is also a garden and a few nice nature trails, though I didn’t partake as this was merely a quick stopover towards a bigger destination...


    OVERALL: A nice local facility to stop at if you’re in Jacksonville and like nature centers. Nothing particularly rare kept here, but the petting zoo and pit vipers are a nice changeup from the usual fare seen at these types of places.

    -------------------


    Here is a species list for Tree Hill Nature Center

    INDOOR (Rattlesnake Conservancy room)
    • Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri)
    • Canebrake Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus atricaudatus)
    • Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
    • Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix)
    • Florida Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti)
    • Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi)
    INDOOR (Other rooms)
    • Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)
    • Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox)
    • Southern Toad (Anaxyrus terrestris) - NOT SEEN
    • American Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinereus) - NOT SEEN
    • Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
    • Surgeonfishes - Unsigned and unknown Species
    • Clownfish - Unsigned and unknown Species
    • Shrimp - Unsigned and unknown Species
    • Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
    • Florida Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus)
    • Florida King Snake (Lampropeltis getula floridana)
    • Common Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
    • Gray Rat Snake (Pantherophis spiloides) - Unsigned
    • Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)
    • River Cooter (Pseudemys concinna)
    • Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) - NOT SEEN?
    • Mississippi Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica kohni) - NOT SEEN
    • Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
    • Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)
    OUTDOOR
    • American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
    • Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
    • Barred Owl (Strix varia) - Unsigned
    • Domestic Pig (Kunkuke)
    • Domestic Goat
    • Domestic Chicken
     
  11. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

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    So my trip will actually end up being 9 days instead of the original 7. I'm lucky enough to be able to stay with someone in Gainesville for the next couple of days so my hotel costs won't increase. However, I actually had a little burnout and haven't visited any zoo the last couple of days making my original planned total unfeasible at this point. My final day will be visiting two Florida facilities (one a revisit).

    Anyways, continuing on to the reviews:


    Jacksonville Zoo
    "The Florida Five Finale"

    Location: Jacksonville, FL
    Type: Mid-Large AZA Zoo
    Cost: Around $30 (half off with my AZA membership)

    Florida’s four major metro areas are each represented by a major zoological institution, with Tampa actually having two facilities worthy of such a rank. I dub these the "Florida Five". I’ve visited Zoo Miami regularly over the last 2 years, while also experiencing Zoo Tampa, Busch Gardens and Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the last 6 months. It was only natural that I’d make sure to visit the states last major zoo when I was already close enough to Jacksonville as it is.

    I didn’t come in with any lofty expectations, though I’ve heard good things about Jacksonville Zoo. Upon entering the zoo, I was treated to what was probably the worst-looking zoo map I’ve ever seen. Luckily, this was likely the lowest aspect of my zoo visit.

    [​IMG]


    The zoo puts a strong focus on Africa, with a couple of standout exhibits based around the continent. The Africa Loop has very large and well-maintained hoofstock yards and a really beautiful but empty exhibit that I believe once held Cheetahs. I really loved the mixed-species savanna yard featuring rhinos, kudu and large birds. There is also a sprawing“bush” yard with Bongo and Yellow-backed Duiker taking up a large portion of the loop and having multiple viewing areas throughout.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    My favorite exhibit of the entire zoo however would have to be the Great Apes Forest. Upon entering, you’re greeted to a huge Kapok tree, one I originally thought was just a display… until I saw Bonobos climbing it. The Bonobos are the real treat here. Besides being a rarity at zoos, they are among the most personable species to interact with. One was laying down near the viewing window and I can swear it started posing for me once I took out my smartphone for pictures! The Bonobos have several nice yards that are connected via an overhead pathway and they can all access the Kapok tree; Mantled Colobus Monkeys also have access to these pathways. While they don’t have the same interconnected habitat, the Gorilla enclosure is nothing to sneeze at, being quite a solid addition to this section.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    There really was nothing I disliked about the African-themed sections, though the elephant yard was just alright and for some reason one of the elephants was kept in a small side yard near the Giraffe exhibit. The reptile house could also use a little updating.

    Moving on, we get to the South American-themed Range Of The Jaguar. The whole “ruined temple” theme is done to death, yet every time I see it I fall in love with it again. The Jaguar exhibit is beautifully done with plenty of rocks for climbing, pleasing waterfalls and a large Pacu-filled pool spread through two connected enclosures.

    [​IMG]


    The indoor temple exhibit besides being a nice piece of architecture has an interesting herp-centric collection within, though the highlight for me was seeing Vampire Bats for the first time. Finally if this section hadn’t already clinched being a must-see, there is an enjoyable walk-through aviary to confirm it. Besides hosting a variety of neotropical birds, there are also exhibits within the aviary, such as a well-done Giant Otter area. I also liked the addition of rare turtles added here, including Mexican Slider and Central American River Turtle. While Florida has so many very awesome Latin American-themed zoo exhibits, Jacksonville’s still manages to stand out as one of the best, with only the juggernaut that is Zoo Miami’s Amazon & Beyond definitively ranked higher in my book.

    The final of the top 3 exhibits is the Asia section. This part of the zoo contains what might be the best suid enclosures I’ve seen at any zoo (you can tell I’d home in on that from my name). The large Babirusa yard, shared with Small-clawed Otters, was especially appreciated with its many viewing areas. Land Of The Tiger, with its Malayan and Sumatran Tigers also stand out. To top it off there’s a serene Oriental garden to stroll through if you need a break from animal viewing.

    [​IMG]


    While there was nothing I really hated at Jacksonville Zoo, the two other major areas didn’t reach the same high regard as the others. Wild Florida appears to be aged and in need of a bit of updating. The reptile house was worn-out, the Bobcat enclosure surprisingly dinky, and the Alligator Snapping Turtle exhibit was dirty and made viewing the reptile almost impossible. There is also a manatee kept in a very small pool, which would easily be the worst enclosure at the zoo if not for the fact that this actually might be a necessary feature for the rehabbing animal. Either way, its still quite dirty and aesthetically unpleasing.

    The Australia section was another area I felt could use improvements. Not so much in quality as its fairly nice and modern, especially the Lorikeet aviary also housing a rare Racket-tailed Roller (and for some reason, a geographically inappropriate Motmot). Its just that no marsupials are featured here, making the “Australia” theme pretty hard to pick up. Within (or right next to) Australia is an Amphibian conservation building featuring a few rare species. However, viewing some of them is very difficult due to them being put in barely-transparent tupperware vats behind glass windows within a lab. To be fair, Jacksonville isn’t the only facility to do this type of exhibit, with both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Smithsonian National Zoo having similarly-designed spaces. But that still doesn’t mean I like it, and in Jacksonville’s case the rare amphibians already held in the collection could of made for yet another very notable exhibit. Amphibian houses are already rare (as noted by @pachyderm pro and others in “America’s 100 must-see exhibits”) so this feels like a missed opportunity. Still, these few complaints pale in comparison to the many positives Jacksonville Zoo has within its gates.

    OVERALL: Jacksonville Zoo was a revelation. Having finally experienced it, I can now say I was thoroughly impressed. This zoo may not be the largest in terms of size or collection, but most of the major exhibits anchoring this facility are among the most well done I’ve seen. While it isn’t quite on the level of Zoo Miami or other mega-zoo’s I’ve visited (like San Diego and Bronx), it packs a nice punch for its size. I would in fact rank it as my second favorite Florida zoo. Hopefully the few older-looking areas left here can get a renovation in the near future because I honestly feel that if they do it successfully, this zoo has potential to be one of the best in the country.

    I will attempt to make a species list later in its own thread.
     
    Last edited: 27 Jan 2023
  12. SwampDonkey

    SwampDonkey In the Swamp Premium Member 5+ year member

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    Great review, thanks for taking the time to do such an in-depth overview. I have not been to Jax since 2004, so I think it is time to make the trip up in the not too distant future.
     
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  13. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

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    @SwampDonkey You're welcome! The zoo has opened up and improved a significant number of exhibits since 2004, so a revisit is definitely a great idea.

    -----------

    The next couple of reviews will be smaller places.


    Tidelands Nature Center
    "Tides and tolls"

    Location: Jekyll Island, GA
    Type: Nature Center/Turtle Rehab Clinic
    Cost: $5

    Note: I have images of the facility, but am waiting to upload until gallery requests reopen.

    I've mentioned my love of visiting local nature centers in my first review, and my plan was to continue seeing a few local little facilities and get a feel for the local nature-related aspects these communities had to offer as I continued my trip up the southeast coast. Tidelands Nature Center is not too far from the Florida-Georgia border and looked like the perfect morning stopover, or so was my thought. Upon arriving at Jekyll Island I was greeted with a toll booth - $8 to enter the little community (apparently a popular vacation spot for locals). I'm not used to tolls down in Florida, but definitely remember them all too well back in New York. They say this is a parking toll since everywhere is supposedly free to park on the island. But I digress....

    Tidelands isn't just a nature center but also sea turtle rehabilitation clinic and a kayak rental agency that offers to take you on tours of the local wetlands, at a cost of course. I had not the time or the money for that, so on to the animal exhibits. The nature center is quite small and in a bit of a rundown building. There's a few aquariums, including a small touch tank with inverts, as well as a small area containing some common local herps. Many of these enclosures are bare of decore or anything enriching. For example, the touch tank is a plastic vat barely filled with sand for substrate while several turtle tanks have no substrate at all and the reptiles just lay on glass. Could be the fact that they move around the animals often? Either way nothing that impressed me, although I don't want to be too critical of these kinds of volunteer-run places. The facility is currently caring for a young Loggerhead Sea Turtle with her own tank in a separate building attached to the main exhibit one. This tank is bigger, fortunately.

    On the plus side I once again got to interact with staff and learned a bit about the animals in the area, always a nice experience. Right outside of the center there is a nature trail and nearby there is the Jekyll Island Museum. I was thinking of visiting, but the building looked small and I didn't feel the $12 cost of admission was worth it. Don't really have much of an interest in the island. My long drive en route to Charleston and my other planned stopovers ensured I continued the drive.


    OVERALL: I have no problem supporting these local educational centers, but its hard recommending a visit to Tidelands because its in an out-of-the-way location that costs money just to enter, in addition to the actual admission cost of the facility itself. They could use better funding as even by nature center standards the exhibits are kind of crude.
     
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  14. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

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    Before I continue with my next review, I forgot to post a species list for Tidelands Nature Center so here it is, in taxonomic order instead of exhibit order:


    HERPS
    • American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
    • Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
    • Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
    • Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)
    • Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)
    • Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene mexicana triunguis)
    • Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta)
    • Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
    • Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum)
    • Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox) - NOT SEEN
    • Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta)
    • Hybrid Rat Snake (Elaphe sp. hybrid)
    • Common Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
    • American Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea)

    FISH*
    • Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus)
    • Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus)
    • Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)
    • Striped Burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfi)
    • Southern Flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma)
    • Hogchoker (Trinectes maculatus)
    • Oyster Toadfish (Opsanus tau)
    • Atlantic Stingray (Dasyatis sabinus)
    *Possibly a couple of other unsigned fish species.

    INVERTS*
    • Striped Hermit Crab (Clibanarius vittatus)
    • Sand Fiddler Crab (Leptuca pugilator) - NOT SEEN
    • Florida Stone Crabe (Menippe murcinaria)
    • Glass Shrimp (Palaemonetes vulgaris)
    *Anemones, whelks and some other invertebrates as well, but don't have signage or species names.


    On to the next review....


    -------------------------------------


    UGA Marine Education Center & Aquarium
    "A surprise wrapped in eight tentacles"

    Location: Savannah, GA
    Type: Small Aquarium
    Cost: $7


    About an hour of driving north from Jekyll Island, and I was in Savanna, Georgia. I was planning to spend the night here, but first would explore some of the zoological attractions. For a fairly large state, there is a surprising dearth of AZA or otherwise large exotic zoos in Georgia, with Atlanta basically the only major city with a large and highly-regarded zoo and aquarium. Savannah is pretty far from Atlanta or any other major city with a zoo and it has the population size to support one, so its a bit strange there isn't anything large here. But at least the couple of smaller facility.

    I enjoyed the charm of the UGA Aquarium and was impressed by its quality (UGA stands for University of Georgia in case anyone was wondering). This of course isn't Georgia Aquarium, but for a small establishment it really does a fine job. The university funds this place and with such financial backing the quality is definitely a step up from a place like Tidelands. The facility is set in a loop, where you view exhibits going freshwater-brackish/shoreline-coastal water-deeper sea waters, or since its a loop you could technically start the opposite direction (although I assume freshwater is the start because there is a slider turtle exhibit in the front of the building as well as an amphiuma/cooter tank right near the admission desk.

    At the start of the loop there is a "shore" area that includes a couple of touch-tanks for horseshoe crabs and other invertebrates as well as a seahorse/pipefish exhibit. There's then about 14 exhibits in the loop hallway proper, with various educational infographics and large shark models hanging on the walls. The glass and water in each tank is surprisingly clear and you can see the fish and take photos without much issue, the only exception being one murky tank currently holding no species. By far my favorite highlight was the Common Octopus tank. The cephalopod was out and about, curiously exploring its habitat and changing colors as I watched and took some pictures.
    The aquarium shouldn't take more than an hour to visit (and that's with being thorough and taking time for photographs) but nonetheless very pleasant, and afterwards you can walk some coastal nature trails just outside the facility. From what a docent told me, you can sometimes see dolphins playing in the waters along the trail.


    OVERALL: I often find myself enjoying these small and inexpensive local aquariums more than the various generic and overpriced "SEA LIFE" style aquariums popping up all over the country and this was no exception. A perfect stopover for the trip and it was conveniently only about 20 minutes from my next facility visited...
     
  15. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

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    As promised, I posted a species list for Jacksonville Zoo is a separate thread:
    Jacksonville Zoo Species List (1/18/23) [Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens]

    On to the next review...


    Oatland Island Wildlife Center
    "Georgia's wilderness the way it once was"

    Location: Savannah, GA
    Type: Nature Center/Sanctuary
    Cost: $5

    After my stop at UGA Aquarium, I headed less than a half hour away to the Oatland Island Wildlife Center. This is the closest facility Savannah and really the entire southeast Georgia has to a true zoo, and some might be inclined to consider it one. Only species that are native to Georgia (or in some cases once were) are exhibited here. Many of these exhibits are spread out along a pristine nature trail; many nature centers and similar facilities have both wilderness paths and live animal displays, but few combine these experiences the way Oatland does. One must actually walk the mile-or-so-long path to experience the animal exhibits, so someone with health issues or otherwise uninterested in the trek might not like this, but luckily for me the weather was fine and overall it was a perfectly acceptable and enjoyable woodland stroll.

    My first stop was at the visitor center to pay for admission and view a few herp exhibits as well as see their Virginia Opossum ambassador. I managed to see my third Two-toed Amphiuma on four facilities visited on this trip already, a species I had only seen one other time previously. I then hit the trails, experience the woodlands and several animals displays. In no time I was in Cougar Crossing, an exhibit containing two of the cats in a nice, clean habitat with clear viewing windows.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    After a small walk around some marshland, I got to the Bobcat. While the Cougars had ample space in their exhibit, the smaller feline had an even larger habitat, possibly the largest and best I've seen for the species. Luckily, the Bobcat was walking around the front of the enclosure and I got to view it. The same luck didn't happen for the Red Fox in an equally vast space not too far away from this exhibit...

    Bobcat:

    [​IMG]

    Red Fox:

    [​IMG]


    After seeing some birds of prey and White-tailed Deer, I wound up at the Gray Wolf exhibit. Another naturalistic habitat for a pack of three or so individuals that were quite easy to spot. I do wonder if they're "pure" wolves or wolfdog hybrids? In addition to an outdoor viewing deck their is a small building with indoor viewing windows as well as a couple of herp displays. A Nine-banded Armadillo yard is also right outside the viewing building, one of the few facilities that actually has a dedicated display for this species, but as expected the elusive xenarthran was a no-show.

    [​IMG]


    Rounding out the final stretch of trails was a sizeable American Bison exhibit. In addition to the wild animal displays, there is also a small barnyard area that contains some domestics, including a couple of Ossabaw Island Hogs, an interesting heritage breed endemic to Georgia and descended from feral hogs released by the Spanish from way back. There is also the Delk-Dawson "heritage homestead" area with cabins and other structures dated from the nineteenth century. One of the cabins was actually transported to the wildlife center from a different part of Georgia in-tact. A small but interesting historical area that just adds to the old colonial feel you get walking the paths!


    OVERALL: I enjoyed Oatland Island Wildlife Center's integration of nature trail and animal/historic exhibits and the size and quality of the enclosures here were often superb. Since this is a native zoo some of the species kept might be considered a bit mundane, but the way they are presented made this a very positive experience even for a zoo veteran like myself. It was a pleasure walking through the forest and experiencing a taste of Georgia's past and present wildlife.

    Here is a species list:

    VISITOR CENTER (MAIN ROOM)
    • Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginianus)
    • Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)
    • Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi)
    • Common Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus) - Incl. albino individual
    • Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)
    • Common Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) - NOT SEEN
    • Two-toed Amphiuma (Amphiuma means)
    • Unknown fish - Unsigned

    VISITOR CENTER (GIFT SHOP)

    • American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) - Juveniles only
    • Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

    OUTDOOR TRAIL EXHIBITS/GARDEN*

    • Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) - NOT SEEN
    • Barred Owl (Strix varia)
    • Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginianus) - NOT SEEN
    • American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
    • Cougar (Puma concolor)
    • Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
    • Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) - NOT SEEN
    • Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
    • Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
    • Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
    • Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
    • Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
    • Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
    • White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
    • Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)
    • Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) - NOT SEEN
    • American Bison (Bison bison)
    *Also a barn area with Ossabaw Island Hogs, chickens and some other domestics.


    WOLF INDOOR VIEWING BUILDING
    • Common King Snake (Lampropeltis getula)
    • Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris)
     
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  16. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    25 Feb 2022
    Posts:
    771
    Location:
    Florida
    Tybee Island Marine Science Center
    "Last stop by Savannah"

    Location: Tybee Island, GA
    Type: Small Aquarium
    Cost: $10

    Before I crossed into the South Carolina border, I stopped off at my final zoological facility in southeat Georgia, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. Tybee Island is another local tourist spot, but at least they don't charge you a fee to enter the community. Parking is costly here however, and from what locals have told me the police regularly check cars to give tickets. With a minimum 2-hour parking fee, this stop-over cost me an additional $7. I will say that the newly-built science center looks beautiful from the outside, although the inside gives more of an impression of a coffee shop than an aquarium if I'm being honest.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    There are officially two floors of exhibits, though its the entrance floor that contains all but one of the displays. The highlight of the visit was seeing a baby Loggerhead rescue, swimming about in its own enclosure and one of two sea turtle rescues kept at the facility.

    [​IMG]


    But aside from that this place was pretty bare. I wasn't a fan of the layout, with tanks randomly placed in middle of an exhibition room. There is no wall placed behind them so you can see whats on the other side of the tank when viewing the animals, and I found them to be obscured by people or objects standing behind. Tanks aren't particularly large or impressive and there is a very small number of species kept, a number of them repeated through several exhibits. A small touch tank with snails and little else is what's left of this floors animal offerings. There is also an observation deck and some museum fare like preserved marine life, fossils and models, but again, a fairly small area.

    [​IMG]


    After navigating a confusing labyrinth of back door staircases, I found my way to the lower floor which consists of just a single tank for an older rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle. Heavy construction was being done here and it appears the next exhibit will be a shark and ray touch tank, a popular attraction that hopefully will add value to such a visit. The exhibit is far from complete, though I did see what was basically a tiny and empty bathtub in the vicinity. I don't think this will be the final exhibit, or at least am hopeful it won't, because this cramped space would be far too inadequate for keeping moderately-sized fish in, let alone having eager people crowding it.


    OVERALL: Meh, this was a pretty forgettable place that wasn't really worth the admission cost. Between here and UGA Aquarium, I would definitely choose the latter. More and better exhibits there, and cheaper (especially considering no parking costs). Tybee Island Marine Science Center is still building new exhibits as they acclimate to their new building, so hopefully the facility will greatly improve in the near future.
     
  17. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member 15+ year member Premium Member

    Joined:
    1 Dec 2007
    Posts:
    7,511
    Location:
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    Thanks for taking the time to write these reviews. It's been a joy to read through this thread, as getting zoo nerd opinions about obscure facilities is always a great hobby. :)
     
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  18. SwampDonkey

    SwampDonkey In the Swamp Premium Member 5+ year member

    Joined:
    12 Jan 2017
    Posts:
    1,938
    Location:
    .
    Thanks for reviewing this, I was thhiiissss close to going here in November, we ended up stopping at the lighthouse across the street and did not have enough time. I was a bit disappointed, but now I am less so.
     
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  19. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    25 Feb 2022
    Posts:
    771
    Location:
    Florida
    @snowleopard Thanks! I appreciate the positive feedback from a zoo veteran like yourself :)

    @SwampDonkey You're welcome. I saw the lighthouse museum right next door, and think its the better of the two places to visit.
     
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  20. SusScrofa

    SusScrofa Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    25 Feb 2022
    Posts:
    771
    Location:
    Florida
    Bee City Zoo
    "A bad buzz"

    Location: Cottageville, SC
    Type: Roadside Zoo
    Cost: Around $17

    I had finally made it to South Carolina! Not too far from my destination of Charleston was a non-accredited zoo not more than an hour outside the city. This place piqued my interest for this is the closest thing to a "traditional" (exotic) zoo within the vicinity of South Carolina's largest city. With both Riverbanks and Lowcountry around a two hour drive away, I really feel Charleston would benefit from having an AZA-accredited zoo to go along with South Carolina Aquarium (which I passed on visiting). Its a wonderful city with enough tourism to support up to a mid-sized one I would think.

    I drove through a rural stretch of roads and found myself at Bee City Zoo. This place also sells honey and other foodstuffs and I assume it started off as a bee farm; it is now officially known on Google as "Bee City Zoo & Honey Bee Farm". There's a few other non-animal related activities, like a "fun house" with trippy hallways and a model of a city for bees, hence the "city" in the zoo's name. As always I'll just focus on the animals.

    Upon entering, the first exhibits I saw were the Budgerigar aviary (with Cockatiels as well) and the Kangaroo walkway exhibit, featuring Red Kangaroos, albino Red-necked Wallabies and an enclosure for Laughing Kookaburra. Maybe not the prettiest a zoo has to offer, but honestly these were fine enclosures... for the most part. There was a major issue of Budgies escaping the aviary throughout the day. Its also really lame that you can only enter both exhibits by paying extra. At least I was able to clearly see all the species and signage from the outside and get some photographs, so not too big of a complaint.

    Budgie aviary (note escapee on roof):
    [​IMG]

    Kangaroo exhibit:
    [​IMG]


    Moving on, I entered an area with mostly hoof stock, both wild and domestic. Mini goats have access to two large yards via a connecting overhead bridge. Unfortunately the wild ungulates kind of get shafted here with comparatively small pens. A zebra shares a tight enclosure with a mini pony and a frisky donkey that was trying to mount it when I came onto the scene. Are Zonkey's on the way soon? There is a really run-down barn and small yard that I believe is/was supposed to hold the zoo's recently acquired young Giraffe, but he was nowhere to be seen so I assume they are keeping him off-display either due to cold weather or refurbishments to the dinky exhibit...

    Several carnivorans, large and small, are present within the collection. The best enclosure would be that of the Servals, who have ample space complete with substrate and a nice rocky climbing area.

    [​IMG]


    It might be sad that just having standard requirements like space and substrate are considered positives here, but this is unfortunately the facts as the rest of the carnivore enclosures suffer a big dip in quality. Most of the small carnivores here are in cramped, concrete-floored enclosures that look dirty and decayed. There is also a big cat section at the end of the zoo that holds a couple of Siberian Tigers and, very surprisingly, a Snow Leopard. How did such a place come to get a rarity like that? These enclosures leave a lot to be desired. There is almost no vertical space or climbing areas for the Snow Leopard and about the best thing I can say about the tiger enclosure is that the floor is not concrete. Yes, worse spaces for big cats exist, but this isn't at all a ringing endorsement.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    We're now left with the primate exhibits and boy are they infamous. Many of these are without a doubt the worst enclosures I've personally encountered in all my zoo visits. The only somewhat good one was that of the Ringtail Lemurs (also shared with Agoutis). This one is very spacious and actually has flooring, although its a bit too bare and needs more climbing opportunities for the primates.

    [​IMG]


    And yes.... you heard right - a positive is that there's flooring. Because most of these monkey prison cells don't even afford that common decency to its inhabitants. Seriously. Besides being horribly small, with even smaller housing for the primates to rest in, the floors of these cages are wire only. There are feeding contraptions where one can put food in a bowl and the monkeys tug it towards them with a rope, but with barely anyone at the zoo it wasn't being used. I did see some of the monkeys leaving their little box-homes and sticking their hands out of the wire floor grabbing some lettuce. When there's no solid floor for food to actually rest on, this is what you'd expect. It's a real shame, because there are many rare primates held here that American Zoochatters would be very eager to see. It really sucks that with AZA collections homogenizing, the interesting leftovers most on this site would find a privilege to view are cursed to spend their remaining lives in such ghastly places.

    Typical floorless cage:
    [​IMG]

    Another small and bad primate enclosure, but at least this has flooring (concrete of course)
    [​IMG]


    That's the basic rundown of the outdoor areas, but there was an indoor "nature center" building that I managed to catch before I left the place for good. I can at least say that this was the best section of a very subpar zoo. The center looks newer and nicer than a good percentage of the rest of the zoo and has a surprisingly extensive collection of reptiles, as well as some amphibians and arachnids.

    [​IMG]


    By no means is this area perfect. For example, several terrariums are too cramped, particularly one tiny space containing two Burmese Pythons. But there are also a number of well-designed habitats that would fit in at a far superior-quality zoo, plus seeing many new reptile species in-person was a nice experience. A keeper was also giving educational talks here and allowing people to pet a Ball Python and baby alligator. The nature center doesn't erase the many terrible exhibits I witnessed, but at least it was a step up to end the visit.


    OVERALL: Bee City Zoo fits the stereotype of a "roadside" to a tee. While the nature center and select few outdoor exhibits are adequate or even perhaps good, a number of poor enclosures, principally the many horrid primate cages, ensures its ranking as a poor facility in need of an overhaul. The rarities are really the only thing this place has that might convince a zoo enthusiast to take the plunge and visit. Charleston is definitely still in need of a quality true zoo.

    A species list will follow on a separate thread.
     
    Last edited: 1 Feb 2023