The Ocelot, a predator now of the tropical jungle and her keeper appeared at the end of the Planet Predator and charmed us with their antics and obvious bonding. Sleek and possessed of a beautiful coat, the ocelot is endangered precisely because of the beauty of her pelt, prized for coats and fur trimmings.
Getting there could not have been easier. We left the house at 9:15 AM from Englewood and in under 2 hours we were there. We headed due south on I-75 to Exit 105, Golden Gate Parkway, Naples then headed West four miles to the intersection with Goodlet Rd. Turn Left and there you are at the Zoo entrance. Round trip mileage: 199 miles, and 1/2 tank of gas.
We ate lunch at the Jungle Café at a shady table overlooking the lake with the primates. Hot dogs and chips were the only "real" food offered. A lunch of 2 hot dogs, 2 bags chips and 2 sodas cost $12. There is a Subway restaurant connected to the main entrance gift area with a more substantial menu, and probably would have been a better bet.
Now that the weather has turned cooler it's time to think of taking off on a Day Trip. On Sun Oct 19, a pristine fall day of 64 F blue sky-ed perfection, my husband and I decided, on the spur of the moment, to head south and check out the Naples Zoo.
We left Englewood at 9am and in under two hours we were in the parking lot. We got our tickets ($18 each) and entered the lush green tropical gardens by crossing a footbridge. We were just in time to catch the feeding of the alligators and to catch a talk on dispelling myths about alligators. We learned man and alligator mostly live together in harmony and that attacks are quite rare and usually provoked by man.
Map in hand, we learned the Zoo is a smaller "pocket size" Zoo you can easily walk in an afternoon. The Zoo, in fact, is a marriage between tropical Caribbean Gardens (its original name) planted in 1919 by an early conservation pioneer, Dr. Henry Nehrling. The rare animal collection was added in 1969 by Larry and Jane Tetzlaff, better known as Jungle Larry and Safari Jane. The Zoo specializes in smaller exotic species rather than an enormous collection of larger animals, as well as group lectures, presentations, and interactions between the public, the animal's handlers and the animals themselves.
After watching the bloody spectacle of the alligator feeding, the next stop was the Primate Cruise. This was unique because the monkeys occupy their own islands instead of being in cages. The islands have trees, shade and shelters. We boarded a pontoon boat and joined another boat in crossing the lake and then idled off each island to observe the habitat and the monkeys. Some of the species we saw were Colobos, Spider Monkeys, Gibbons and large Ring Tailed Lemurs, mostly visible only by their tails. The cruise was cool and pleasant and totally gave the illusion of being off in some exotic locale like Africa. How refreshing to see the monkeys up in trees and not in cages!
From the minute we set foot in the Zoo, there was a background noise of roaring and bellowing. I imagined some huge behemoth venting his cry, and was amazed to come across the source of the sound - a magnificent male lion, standing on a platform in a large cage. Well muscled, with a magnificent mane that looked blow-dried in its perfection, he resembled the MGM lion from the movies. He stood there moving his head and roaring, just to hear himself roar. Then, abruptly, he yawned, lay down, licked his paws and closed his eyes and slept, reminding me of our pet house cat!
We came upon the tiger area perfectly timed to jibe with a handler talk and feeding of the tigers. Chunks of red meat where poked to the tigers at the end of a stick. We learned from the keeper the tigers were highly endangered due to over hunting and loss of habitat. In fact, we realized that over hunting and loss of habitat and near extinction is, in fact, the fate of virtually all the animals in the Zoo.
African wild dogs were glimpsed; wallabies, some kangaroos and an amazing small mammal from Madagascar called a Fosa. There is a Florida panther area. Because it was mid-day, most of the animals were not up and around but resting in the shade.
Our last stop was at the Safari Canyon open-air theater, where we took in the show called Planet Predator. Of special interest here, in addition to the snakes and reptiles, were the hedgehogs (highly funny) and a lengthy "visit" with an ocelot female who was put through her paces of leaps and jumps demonstrating her power. The handler reminded us that the ocelot while looking sleek and cuddly was actually quite dangerous and that the cat had given her quite a severe wound in a previous year.
The Zoo is smaller than other urban Zoos like Lowry Park in Tampa. What makes it special is not just the beauty of the garden setting, or the exoticness of the collection but the interaction between staff and visitor. It is really a teaching Zoo where every half hour there is a presentation by the staff where you go behind the scenes to have an up close and personal look of the animals as seen by their keepers. These were educational and very much enriched the whole experience. The Zoo's Mission Statement is "To delight guests with the Natural World and inspire preservation of our planets remaining wild areas and their wondrous inhabitants." It worked for us!