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For me, our trip to Miami was about seeing cool architecture, basking in the sun, and indulging in some amazing meals. My mother added going to the zoo to that agenda, and while we were a bit skeptical at first, it ended up being an amazing way to spend the day. With 500 different species spanning almost 750 acres, Zoo Miami has something for everyone.
To start with logistics, Zoo Miami is about a 35 minute drive south from Downtown Miami, or if you’re staying out in Miami Beach like we did it's more like 45 minutes to an hour, depending on causeway traffic. The zoo is open every day of the year and hours on typical weekdays are 10am - 5pm. We arrived between 10 and 11 and didn’t leave until closing so definitely plan on making this a full day activity. Parking is abundant and free so leave your car and get ready for a fun day of exploring!
The zoo is broken into four main areas: Asia, Africa, Amazon, and Australia. We started at the aviary in the Asian section and met some very fun fowl. The masked lapwing quickly became my favorite as this particular little guy followed us around. I kept thinking that this species is a mix of brunch and carnival... decorative masks that look like they could be made of eggs! On the opposite side of the color and personality spectrum, the Nicobar pigeon I managed to see was hidden up in some of the quieter high branches. With a nasty stink eye like that, I would not want to meet this bruiser in a dark alley... at least in the cartoon version of life!
Among the cacophony of chirps and the swish of wings, a few of these large turtles managed to laze about. I didn't manage to catch a sign with a particular species listed, but the electric color of this one's eyes really caught mine.
After exploring the various animals from Asia (an elephant, a rhinoceros and my personal favorite animal name, the Somali Wild Ass), we made our way into the African section.
There are so many type of antelope (over 90 species) that I always find myself taking pictures of every exhibit sign just to keep them straight. While they don't change much in body type, I love the variety of horns that the different species have. A fun fact I learned about horns vs antlers: horns are permanent, unbranched, and males in all antelope species have them (some females too). Antlers however are branched, are shed annually, are only on males (except for caribou), and are an easy-to-spot mark of a member of the deer family.
The Greater Kudu are the second largest species of African antelope, and can be found in the southern half of the continent. These guys are pretty impressive, with horns that can be up to 6 feet long. Even more impressive to me was finding out they can also jump over 7 feet high, whoa!
The Addax is from northern Africa and is highly endangered, so much so that it has been extinct in Egypt since 1900.
The Arabian Oryx can only be found in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and was actually extinct in the wild by the early 1970s. Luckily this species has been preserved by zoos and preserves and has been able to be reintroduced to the wild as of 1980.
After the impressive horns of the antelope we moved along the the giraffe area. These creatures always seem so ridiculous, something so tall and lanky just can't come off as graceful. However, they make up for any clumsiness by having a good sense of humor.
This lovely guy above managed to pull off a few elegant poses before he resorted to jokes. Such a ham this one...
The last stop on our African safari were the Grevy's Zebras. These guys are a bit bigger than the more common Grant's Zebra (seriously, could they choose two more easily mixed up names?) and although I always thought of them as heard animals, they apparently prefer solitary life. Whatever their squad preferences, I just like the stripes. Check out those knees, they look like fingerprints!
After Africa we moved into the Amazon. I will not traumatize anyone by posting the pictures I have of the giant anacondas.... I will already be having nightmares about those guys, but here are a few of the more fun and less nightmare-worthy species.
I feel like when I was growing up, whenever frogs were mentioned, these little guys were the image that always came to mind. I don't know if I should blame the cover of Zoobooks for that or what, but it was fun seeing one in person again (the last time was on a trip to Costa Rica many years ago). This one was particularly shy, so a side profile is all I could get. Maybe I'll get a look into the eyes next time.
What is any zoo trip without a visit to the reptile house? Lizards as a species seem to exude their ability to just be chill. Give the man a snow-cone.
Another staple of any good zoo visit, seeing all of the various types of monkeys and apes. Some other species were being particularly lazy when we stopped by, but the Spider Monkeys didn't disappoint. We arrived right when a few of them were descending from a tree and were able to witness quite the acrobatics show!
After the smaller Amazon species we made our way to my favorite spot of the whole day, the Jaguars. Zoo Miami has a male and female pair and when I first got to the female's enclosure I was lucky enough to have a few minutes with her to myself. While I know those eyes probably thought of me as a tasty morsel, I was just happy to get to really enjoy her calm beauty up-close and personal. Under the protection of a nice shady path, this spot was a perfect resting point to appreciate these gorgeous creatures.
Around the corner from the female, we also lucked out when we reached the male. A helpful zookeeper told us that he is usually pretty lazy... but we caught him during a rare urge to pee... so we got to enjoy a few minutes of him walking around. The effortless grace of both the male and female is really something to behold.
The last stop on our visit wound back around into the Asian area so that we could see the tiger. This massive beauty had a pretty cool enclosure, but the stats on his sign were pretty disturbing. There are currently 5 species of tiger found in the wild, one type (the South China tiger) is only found in zoos, and 3 more are fully extinct. The Sumatran Tiger species featured at Zoo Miami for example only has 300-400 animals remaining in the wild. For creatures that are extremely adaptive, ranging from tropical areas and swamps to high evergreen forests, the biggest threat to these impressive predators is poaching.
Whenever I go into a zoo I have constantly conflicting emotions over the entire premise. I know the efforts of zoos across the world are the only reason we still have many of our precious endangered species (as seen above) and I applaud their efforts and acknowledge their necessity. But then I see the faces of the the apes, with expressions so like our own, and I start to question if cages, however well concealed, are the answer. I see tigers and lions, once kings of entire jungles and desserts, left to pace circles in a few acres instead of a few thousand and I start to question how anyone could take something so majestic and put it behind four walls.
But therein lays the problem. People go out and hunt these creatures every day, just to take a piece of that majesty home for themselves (regardless of the many laws in place to stop them). So until these beast can safely live without human predators, zoos will be around. As I looked back through some of my favorite moments from our visit I tried to focus on sharing some fun photos and facts about the various animals (thanks to the helpful signs throughout the park) instead of the heavier stuff. I hope this post was both fun and maybe even a little educational.
Thanks for coming with me on a safari of sorts at Zoo Miami, I hope this makes you want to visit your local zoo and support conservation efforts. I also hope that by sharing the beauty of the many creatures to be found at Zoo Miami I can emphasize that the best souvenir from any safari is simply a picture of your favorite animal.
Date & Locations: Friday, 19 Feb 2016 - Zoo Miami (12400 SW 152nd St, Miami, FL 33177)
Photos taken with: Nikon D5300, Nikon 18-140mm f3.5-5.6 DX Lens
Photo credits: Myself