Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (or Jacksonville Zoo) in Jacksonville, Florida, is the largest zoo between Atlanta, Georgia, and Orlando, Florida, on the eastern coast of the United States at the mouth of the Trout River. The zoo occupies approximately and has over 2,000 animals in its collection. The zoo has grown from its modest beginnings in Springfield to be considered one of the city's premiere attractions.

The zoo's marquee attraction is the Range of the Jaguar, which won the 2005 AZA Exhibit of the year award. The exhibits highlights animals native to Neotropical Rainforests. The zoo's other exhibits include the Plains of East Africa, highlighting African Savannah animals; Great Apes of the World, featuring 3 of the 4 Great Apes among other primates; the Australian Outback, including lorikeets, cassowarys, and kangaroos.

The zoo is active in animal conservation, participating in over 20 SSP (Species Survival Plans.) In 2004, the zoo reached an agreement with the nation of Guyana to help promote conservation in that country, particularly the Iwokrama Rainforest. Additionally, since 1999 the zoo has been home to a large breeding colony of woodstorks.


The Municipal Zoo opened in the Springfield neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida on May 12, 1914. The first animal on exhibit was a red deer fawn.

On July 19, 1925, the Zoo moved to a site on the Trout River off Heckscher Drive in North Jacksonville.

Over the course of the next forty years, the Zoo continued to grow in area and in terms of animals on display. By the end of the 1960s, the Zoo was reputed to have the largest collection of exotic animals in the Southeast, but it had fallen on hard times and a great deal of money was needed to save the zoo. Community leaders, under the direction of Mayor Hans Tanzler, appointed a seven member committee to search for an alternative to closing the Zoo.

A major redevelopment of the Zoo began in 1992. Through a combination of public funds and private donations, over $20 million was raised to complete Phase One of the Zoo's Master Plan. Projects completed include a new front entry gate and parking lot, the Main Camp entrance, Birds of the Rift Valley Aviary, Great Apes, an expanded train ride, an elephant and breeding complex, RiverBranch Foundation Animal Medical Center, the PepsiCo Foundation Education Campus, and redevelopment of the 11 acre Plains of East Africa.

In December 2003, the zoo's name was officially changed from the Jacksonville Zoo to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Over the next five years, several new exhibits and services, including the famed Range of the Jaguar, the Savanna Blooms botanical garden, and the Children's Play Park successfully opened to the public. In addition, the zoo has endeavored to become recognized as a botanical garden.

Currently, the Zoo sits on 89 acres of land, over twice its original size on the Trout River location. The Zoo houses over 2,000 rare and exotic animals and over 1,500 unique plant species and participates in many preservation and breeding programs to ensure the survival of endangered and threatened species as well as local fauna and flora.

Management and finance

The Jacksonville Zoological Society was created in April 1971 and began managing the Zoo on June 21, 1971. Originally only the seven members appointed by Mayor Tanzler, the Society now consists of 85 of the city's most influential leaders. The Society. There are currently thirty Board of Trustees members, with sixteen Honorary members. The Board conducts business regarding the Zoo in the name of the Society.

The City of Jacksonville contracts with the Society to manage all phases of the operation of the Zoo. All property, including land, animals and equipment, belong to the city; in turn, the city contributes an annual subsidy to offset some of the Zoo's operating expenses. All other Zoo expenses are paid through revenues earned from admissions, concession sales, memberships, the Animal Care Club program, the Annual Fund, sponsorships, as well as grants and several fund-raising events.

Current Exhibits

African Exhibits

The northern part of the zoo is dominated by a series of African exhibits. The largest of which is the Plains of East Africa. At over 11 acres the exhibit is the largest on zoo grounds.

Birds of the Rift Valley

Opened in April 1996 to serve as an entrance to the Plains of East Africa. The enclosure has over for the birds to fly about and is highlighted by a large waterfall at one end of the exhibit. The aviary features lesser flamingos, Guinea fowl, storks, hammerkops, and other African birds. In addition, the zoo has a breeding pair of saddle-billed storks in the enclosure. The zoo was just the sixth zoo in the US to successfully breed the species.

To the side of the main aviary is the Ruzizi Streambank. A milky eagle owl (or Verreaux's Eagle owl) along with other smaller African birds are found there.

Plains of East Africa

The first major exhibit that guests encounter. The exhibit is primarily viewed from an elevated walkway giving guests a bird's eye view of the animals. The exhibit was renovated and expanded in 1996 and is scheduled to be renovated again sometime in the near future.

Prior to the savanna-themed boardwalk, Nile crocodiles, warthogs, and saddle-billed storks are on display.

Eastern bongos, impalas, and Leadbeater's ground-hornbills are found in a center pen that is spacious and tree-shaded. The zoo was the first in North America to successfully breed Leadbeater’s ground hornbills. In addition, this exhibit has become a home for a large breeding colony for the highly endangered Wood Stork, native to Florida.

The cheetah exhibit, a long, wide area is home to one cheetah. It lies across a water break from the larger exhibit containing southern white rhinoceroses, greater kudu, sitatungas, a Masai ostrich, black-crowned cranes, and goliath herons inhabit the areas at the end of the boardwalk. This exhibit allows plenty of room for the animals to roam. The zoo has been a successful breeder of southern white rhinos, with over a dozen successful births.

Cape buffalo and Grevy's Zebras are located further along the boardwalk.

Elephant Plaza

Offers an intimate view of the four African elephants at the zoo in their 275,000-gallon pool. The zoo is one of the few who house male elephants. The Zoo has a male African elephant named Ali, who was donated from Michael Jackson in 1997. The area features a reptile house that exhibits Egyptian cobras, green mambas, and a African rock python named Solomon. White bellied bustards, fruit bats, klipspringers, and Lappet-faced vultures are found in smaller side exhibits in the area.

Further down the boardwalk is Mahali Pa Simba ("Place of the Lion" in Swahili), the one acre home of the Zoo's two male lions, Wakaiti and Mashoni. The exhibit was the first to be opened and has evolved over the years. The largest change was the addition of a third viewing area across a moat on the north side of the exhibit.

Colobus monkeys live in the area in front of the lions. From East Africa, they move by leaping from tree to tree and can be seen in action in their lively exhibit.

Leopards are along the southern end of the boardwalk. The exhibit is highlighted by the gigantic artificial tree in the center of the exhibit that the leopards love to sleep and play on. An interesting side note, the Leopards on exhibit are Amur leopards, a subspecies native to Eastern Siberia in Russia, despite their placement near an African Exhibit.

Giraffe Overlook

A short distance away is the renovated giraffe exhibit. The covered boardwalk gives guests a breathtaking view across a replica of the African Savanna and guests can also get eye-to-eye with a giraffe. Drinks and giraffe food are sold at the overlook. The renovation more than doubled the original exhibit from 3/4 of an acre to more than two acres. Giraffes, greater kudu and other antelope species walk and graze freely in this exhibit, adjacent to the new Savanna Blooms botanical garden. The giraffe herd is expected to expand from the current four members to as many as eight. Two young giraffes remain, although one of the youngest died after an illness in 2006.

Great Apes of the World

Great Apes of the World gives zoo visitors a look at the various primates that inhabit our planet. Although monkeys and prosimians are also featured, as the name suggests the apes are the stars of the exhibit. The exhibit opened in two phases in 1998 and 1999. Phase I included western lowland gorillas and bonobos, the first time the zoo had exhibited either species. In addition, the exhibit provided new homes for the zoo's siamangs and pygmy marmosets. The Marmosets have since been moved to the Range of the Jaguar exhibit. Phase II included a second gorilla yard, along with new exhibits for the Zoo's chimpanzees and mandrills, along with renovating the old monkey island area for a lemur exhibit.

The zoo is currently home for three male gorillas and family groups of mandrills and bonobos. Nearby a siamang is on display, while on the prosimian island, a troop of ring-tailed lemurs, black-and-white ruffed lemurs and red ruffed lemurs cavort.

According to a news story in the Florida Times-Union on October 4, 2006, the Zoo's chimpanzees were to be removed to make room for more bonobos as these are more critically endangered than the chimps. Zoo officials also believe that bonobos are more personable and less temperamental than the chimps.

Wild Florida

Wild Florida was built where the old Florida Wetlands were. The exhibit highlights animals native to the state as well as some that have been extirpated. The exhibit is home to the Zoo's group of American alligator, American black bear, red wolves, Florida panthers, white-tail deer, otters, bobcats, bald eagles, and formerly American flamingos.

In 2007, the old flamingo exhibit was renovated to accommodate the eagles, so that their exhibit could be used for a pair of whooping cranes the zoo acquired. The reptile house in the exhibit shows off the variety of reptiles and amphibians native to the region. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and indigo snakes are among the main attractions.

Range of the Jaguar

This exhibit won the 2005 AZA exhibit of the year award. The exhibit is the largest in terms of number of animals. The exhibit features the largest jaguar exhibit in North America, with many pools of water for the animals to play in. In the water is a school of giant pacu. Currently, the zoo has six jaguars in its collection. One of the rare scenes in the exhibit is to see a jaguar actually fish for food.

The Lost Temple serves as another animal exhibit. Constructed to look like an old Central American temple, the exhibit highlights Central and South American reptiles and amphibians such as anacondas, caiman lizards, poison dart frogs, Panamanian golden frogs, and bushmasters. In addition, Hoffman's two-toed sloths, pygmy marmosets, and cotton-top tamarins are also found in the exhibit.

The River's Edge features a pair of giant anteaters, a Baird's Tapir, a pair of capybaras, a troop of squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, and white-faced sakis (a type of monkey).

The Emerald Forest Aviary is the largest aviary on zoo grounds. The aviary houses over 100 neo-tropical birds. The primary attraction in the aviary is the Harpy Eagles enclosure. The harpy eagle featured at the zoo is a young male named Supay. In the main aviary, visitors can see macaws, cuckoos, herons, ducks, Pudu, along with river otters, and one of the largest freshwater fish, the arapaima. As of November 2007, giant river otters have replaced the smaller otters in the aviary. Just outside the aviary are American flamingos and various swan species native to South America.

Australian Adventure

Opened March 2002, the Outback Steakhouse's Australian Adventure attraction was the first new major exhibit at the south end of the Zoo in seven years.

Animals included in this South Pacific attraction include the cassowary, Lories and lorikeetss, kangaroos, and wallabies. For a dollar, guests are given cups of nectar and are allowed to feed the lorikeets. The Kangaroo and Wallaby exhibit originally allowed for guests to walk through the area along a fenced in path, however, this was later discontinued due to safety concerns for the animals.

Koalas were part of the exhibit from its opening until December 2006. The Koalas were then sent back to the San Diego Zoo as per the terms of their lease. The Koala exhibit will become an Amphibian Conservation Center in February 16.

Stingray Bay

Stingray Bay opened on March 1st, 2008. Featuring 29 rays housed in a 16,000-gallon, 30-by-40-foot saltwater pool, guests are able to touch and feed both cownose and southern stingrays. The exhibit replaced the Camel Rides in the same location near the Great Plains of East Africa.

The exhibit is expected to be open through September 2008 and will close for the winter, as the rays will be housed in a different area. It is possible that the exhibit will reopen in Spring 2009.

Future exhibits

Monsoon Asia

The planned Asian Garden and komodo dragon exhibit will lead to a full Asian exhibit. This major exhibit is scheduled to be opened in two phases. The first phase will feature tigers, the first time the zoo has exhibited tigers since 1995. The second phase will feature other Southeast Asian and Indian animals. The estimated cost of the new exhibit is $26 million and it awaits further funding.

Renovation of the Plains of East Africa

A renovation is expected of the Plains of East Africa Exhibit some time in the next few years, perhaps as soon as the winter of 2007. The planned renovations include replacing many of the old post railings and putting in plexi-glass so it is easier for small children and wheel-chair bound guests to see the animals. The boardwalk will be lowered in some spots to provide up-close encounters with the animals. In addition, the Cheetah and White Rhino exhibits will be reconfigured allowing for a new Hippo exhibit between them.


Camel rides

Near the Plains of East Africa exhibit, families could experience riding live camels. From March through May 2007, four dromedary camels were present, with attending staff, and were available for guided rides in an enclosed area.

Note: This seasonal exhibit was closed and replaced by Stingray Bay.

Children's Play Park

Phase one of the Jacksonville Zoo's Play Park opened in May 2006 across from the Range of the Jaguar. The Play Park replaced the outdated Okavongo Village which was demolished a year earlier. The exhibit includes a Splash ground water park for children as well as an outdoor jungle gym. Animals featured include Squirrel Monkeys and River Otters, each with themed activities for kids by their exhibits. In addition, a barnyard area where children can pet farm animals is located there. The Discovery Center is for educational programs for children.


Two full-sized restaurants, a snack bar and an ice cream pavilion are located on the Zoo's grounds. The Main Camp Café snack bar offers drinks, popcorn, ice cream, coffee and other quick refreshments as you enter the park. As part of the Range of the Jaguar exhibit, the Palm Plaza Café offers a southwestern menu with nachos, burritos, tacos, wraps and salads. At the back of the Zoo near the location of the Gardens of Trout River Plaza exhibit and the former Trout River pier entrance, the Trout River Grill offers sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream and pretzels. Near the Children's Play Park, the Play Park Cafe serves ice cream, cold drinks and other refreshments.

Additionally, picnic grounds are located at the south end of the Zoo's parking lot, near the Education Campus. Visitors are allowed to bring their own food and beverage into this area; food and drinks are not allowed to be brought into the Zoo. No open fire or grills are allowed. Seating is approximately 200, first come, first serve.

Animal Conservation Programs

Iwokrama Forest and Guyana

With the opening of the Range of the Jaguar exhibit, the zoo also unveiled their project with the nation of Guyana and the Iwokrama Forest. Signs around the exhibit show what is being done to protect the animals shown in their native habitats. In addition, the partnership allows the zoo to receive animals that would be unable to released back to the wild, such was the case in 2006 with the addition of two jaguars who were household pets that were sent to the zoo from Guyana.

Wood Storks

The antelope exhibit in the Plains of East Africa has become home to a large breeding colony of wood storks. The storks return every year because of the abundance of water and fish in the immediate area. The colony has grown from just 7 nesting pairs that produced no chicks in 1999 to 82 pairs that produced 219 chicks in 2005. The zoo's colony has been deemed the most important established breeding colony of woodstorks in North Florida. At the end of the 2006 breeding season, several firsts occurred. It was the first year birds that were tagged as hatching at the zoo returned to breed, along with the first sighting of a bird tagged at another rookery. At the end of the 2006 season, it is estimated over 800 chicks have been successfully raised in the colony since 2000.

SSP Breeding programs

Animal Group Common Name Scientific Name Conservation Program, Significant Achievements
Big Cats
Jaguar Panthera Onca SSP, largest Jaguar exhibit in North America
Transvaal Lion Panthera Leo Krugeri SSP
Florida Panther Puma concolor coryi SSP
Amur Leopard Panthera pardus orientalis SSP
Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus SSP
Siamang Hylobates syndactylus SSP
Bonobo Pan paniscus SSP, one of only zoos in North America to house species, 3 successful births
Western Lowland Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla SSP
Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes SSP, note the zoo will be closing their Chimpanzee exhibit in the near future
Mandrill Mandrillus sphinx SSP, 2 successful births since 2003
Ring Tailed and Ruffed Lemurs Lemur catta, Varecia variegata rubra, Varecia variegata variegata SSP
Lion Tailed Macaque Macaca silenus SSP
Colobus Monkey Colobus guereza SSP
Large Mammals
African Elephant Loxodonta africana SSP, one of few zoos to house Male Elephant
Southern White Rhino Ceratotherium simum simum SSP, over a dozen successful births have occurred since 1980
Eastern Bongo Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci SSP, several Bongos born at the zoo participated in reintroduction in Zaire
Other Mammals
Red Wolf Canis rufus SSP
North American River Otter Lontra canadensis lataxina SSP
Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja SSP

Botanical Gardens

Savanna Blooms

This first Themed Pocket Garden was completed in spring 2005. Nestled beneath the Giraffe Overlook, visitors will find acacia groves that flank two entrances into the one-half acre garden. This unique garden, fashioned after a South African oasis, transitions from soft grasslands and fine textured acacia leaves at each entrance into a bold contemporary garden at its core. Kopje outcrops erupt from the landscape, and a weep trickles down the face of the rocks. The spring feeds a serene pool that showcases African water lilies and water edge plants. Visitors rest beneath the curved trellis laden with fragrant flowering vines and view the garden’s splendor from an internal vantage point.

Gardens of Trout River Plaza

In 2005-2007, the area encompassing the old Okovango Landing, as well as the children's play area was renovated. In September 2007, the $1.9 million Trout River Plaza botanical garden opened. The entire area - which also includes a grassy area named "The Lawn" which will be used for special events - encompasses . The heart of the new addition is the 1/4 acre garden space, partially walled with a fountain with an anhinga sculpture, flower beds and a lot of hardscape. There are columns topped with flowering plants, benches for seating, and a large patio area surrounding the fountain. Seven live oaks and other native trees - red maples, magnolias, and forest pansies - have been planted in the area around the garden to provide shade.

Future Gardens

More pocket and primary gardens are scheduled to open in the near future. The second primary garden will be the Asian Garden, scheduled to open in 2008. The exhibit will feature a koi pond, waterfall, along with a bamboo island. A komodo dragon exhibit will be included, scheduled to be added in 2009. The garden will serve as the entrance for the new Asian exhibit scheduled to open in 2010.



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