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Zoos of Panama

Discussion in 'Central & South America - General' started by Giant Panda, 25 Jan 2016.

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  1. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    Last year, I spent six weeks in Panama. As the country doesn’t appear be represented on ZooChat, I thought I’d write some brief descriptions of the zoos there. No photos unfortunately, but I’ll do my best to answer any questions.

    Smithsonian Marine Exhibition Center:
    This aquarium in Panama City is operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, an offshoot of the Smithsonian that does great work throughout the country. The site occupies a small peninsula and aims to showcase the diversity of habitats in Panama. A commendable aim, certainly, but execution perhaps fails to live up to ambition in this case. Facilities include a room with some simple tanks, a suitably doomsday amphibian exhibit, the obligatory touch-tank and a utilitarian pool for sharks and turtles – hardly titillating. However, I would recommend a visit, both for the stunning views and because much of the site is taken up by remnant dry forest where sightings of wild crab-eating raccoons are frequent and Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths all but guaranteed. The centre (sorry, “center”) is also conveniently close to the Biomuseo: a natural history museum focusing on the Great American Interchange. Whilst the exhibits themselves are fairly bland, the Gehry-designed building is fascinating and the masterplan includes an aquarium. Bizarrely, the tanks have already been constructed and filled with water, but weren’t stocked at the time of my visit.

    Summit Municipal Park:
    A botanical garden and animal sanctuary twenty minutes outside Panama City. Its parkland setting is pleasant and a few exhibits for the big name species are rather good. Indeed, the vast harpy eagle aviary, including two-storey viewing and a museum, is not only the park highlight but must be one of the finest raptor exhibits in the world. The open-topped jaguar enclosures are well-planted and a fair size, whilst the Baird’s tapir exhibit is perhaps the best I’ve seen. Most enclosures, however, vary from average to very poor indeed, although it’s difficult to criticize when the animals are genuine rescues. The sanctuary nature of the park (as opposed to “sanctuary” in the Sea Life marketing department’s sense of the word) also means it has some choice species for the zoo enthusiast: lesser capybara, Neotropical river otter and a semi-off-show greater grison were personal highlights. Other taxa include (from memory) puma, ocelot, margay, grey fox, white-nosed coati, white-headed capuchin, black-headed and Geoffroy’s spider monkey, Central American squirrel monkey, Geoffroy’s tamarin, northern tamandua, collared peccary, palm nut vulture, several toucan species and what I presume was an American crocodile. It’s far from perfect but worth the trip.

    Gamboa Rainforest Resort:
    This is a luxury hotel located in the town of Gamboa, known to birders as the startpoint for Pipeline Road. Although not a zoo per se, the resort grounds include pleasant walk-through aviaries for butterflies and amphibians, in addition to a netted “animal sanctuary” scheduled to open a month or so after I left. A sneak peek revealed several vivaria and a rescued jaguar cub being introduced to an enclosure that would’ve been cramped for an ocelot. Hopefully it’s moved to Summit when fully grown.

    El Nispero Zoo and Botanical Garden:
    A small zoo situated in the Anton Valley, a couple of hours from Panama City. I didn’t actually visit this one, but I don’t think I’d have liked it much: “AMAZING – you can pat monkeys and leopards!!!!!” (courtesy of TripAdvisor).

    Safarick’s Zoologico:
    Another place I didn’t visit, but this one looks quite impressive. Opened in 2014, Safarick’s is a sanctuary near Colon and could be seen in a day from Panama City. Exhibits include the country’s largest walk-through aviary (100ft long; reportedly featuring hummingbirds) and a netted butterfly enclosure. The website is remarkably professional and it’s popular on TripAdvisor, whatever that’s worth.

    Monkey Island:
    As the name suggests, several species of monkey (unspecified howlers, capuchins and tamarins) and possibly other species are viewed by boat. The only noteworthy thing I’ve heard about this place is that wild Neotropical river otters are sometimes seen.


    I’d be interested to know if there are any Panamanian zoos I haven’t listed.
     
    Last edited: 26 Jan 2016
  2. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks for the reviews and news on the zoos of Panama, Giant Panda.

    Did you have a chance to explore some of wild Panama also and see any cool wildlife? Do they have a good national park or reserve system there?
     
  3. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Thank you for the genuinely informative post and while Panama is not known as a zoological hotbed it was a joy to read your write-ups.
     
  4. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    welcome to Zoochat, that is one of the very best first posts I have ever seen!

    One main query, you mention Palm-nut Vulture in the collection at the Summit Municipal Park. I'm assuming this is a typo for something else?
     
  5. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    Hey folks and thanks for the kind welcome.

    @DavidBrown: Panama is increasingly rivalling Costa Rica as the premier ecotourism destination in Central America. Most of my time was spent in forests around the Canal Zone, where vast areas have been protected because they act as the Panama Canal watershed. I’m a mammal person really, but I’ve already mentioned that Pipeline Road is renowned among birders for the highest single-day species total in Central America. I did rather poorly spotlighting there, but picked up some nice species nonetheless: lowland paca, tapeti, kinkajou, common opossum and nine-banded armadillo. Lesser capybara are easily seen at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort (the cocktails aren’t bad either) and incidental mammal-watching on nearby Barro Colorado Island (site of the famous 50-hectare plot) gave me Geoffroy’s spider monkey, white-faced capuchin, white-nosed coati, collared peccary, greater sac-winged bat and three northern tamanduas – the trip highlight. As I said earlier, the Smithsonian Marine Exhibition Center in Panama City is a good bet for crab-eating raccoons and Hoffman’s two-toed sloth. There’s also Metropolitan Nature Park, an area of protected rainforest within the city limits where I saw five species: brown-throated three-toed sloth, mantled howler, Geoffroy’s tamarin, variegated squirrel and Central American agouti. In general, Panama is pretty good about protecting its wildlife although, like anywhere, the situation isn't perfect. There are some good trip reports on the mammalwatching website if you're interested.

    @snowleopard: Panama certainly isn’t a “zoological hotbed”, but there are a few places worth a visit if you’re in the country anyway.

    @Chlidonias: I’m fairly certain they were palm-nut vulture (one of the few species labelled, if I remember), although that does seem fairly incongruous in retrospect. Incidentally, I’ve enjoyed reading your own travel blogs immensely.