Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens sign

Greetings from Jacksonville, Florida, home of WAPE - "THE BIG APE" - radio station and the Jacksonville Zoo. When I was a kid, WAPE - "The Mighty 690", was, arguably, the most popular Top 40 AM station in Savannah, Georgia. Jacksonville was also the closest big city to my hometown, and we had relatives there. Our cousins were never shy to remind us that Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach and local scenery in Florida were superior in all respects to Savannah and Tybee. So our parents occasionally took my brother and me to see the cousins and other animals.

I remember my anticipation of excitement, adventure and dread more than any specific exhibit or events in Jacksonville, excepting Monkey Island. Monkey Island was just that - a hillock surrounded by a moat surrounded by a wall over which amusing visitors applauded simian antics. Feeding the monkeys was not forbidden back then. Some folks would bring grapes to pitch. I recall one ape in particular which, while the others were clamoring nearest clusters of visitors, would scamper alone off to the top of the hillock and wave his arms for attention. He got lots of laughs and collected most grapes.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has grown up a lot since then, so I returned recently for the first time in about 50 years to see what was new. Almost everything was.

The Jacksonville Zoo endured hard times back in the '60s. Not wanting to close it, community leaders formed a committee to figure out a way to keep it open. The Jacksonville Zoological Society was formed and progress was made.

Today's Jacksonville Zoo is more like a botanical garden with animals. Situated on the Trout River, the park is divided into continental themes with appropriate beasts. There are The Plains of East Africa, Wild Florida, River Valley Aviary, Savanna Blooms Garden and Giraffe Overlook, Great Apes, South America and Range of The Jaguar, Gardens at Trout River Plaza, Save The Frogs and Australian Adventure, Asian Gardens and Komodo Exhibit.

Gardens at Trout River Plaza
Upon entering, you feel like you're going on safari, except you're strolling broad walks among beautifully landscaped gardens. Nevertheless, you can't wait to mosey around the next corner. Plant and animal species are well identified with signage, so visitors can appreciate what they're viewing.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens isn't just for walking. For those who want to see the zoo the easy way or just enjoy the ride, the Zoo Train stops at the Main Camp Entrance and, strategically, the Kids' Shop. Since it's located on the Trout River, Jacksonville Zoo makes kayaks available for those who like to paddle about.

The carousel is one of my favorite rides at any park because you can master the most ferocious beasts, ride them fast and melt into ghee!
Zoos are better designed now than when I was growing up, partly for the animals' sakes, partly for the visitors'. Attractive landscaping is becoming a notable feature. I think, though, that The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is unique in its thoughtful combination of a botanical garden with the zoological park.

Following are a few more photographs of my visit:

The Rivers Of Color Garden.

Edible landscaping and raised bed displays.

A portion of the cacti and succulents collection.

Asian Garden scene

Variegated Japanese Yew (Podocarpus macrophyllus var. maki 'Argenteus')

Preening flamingos
Red frangipani (Plumeria spp.).

Elegant patterns of the West African green mamba (Dendroaspis viridis)

Lioness (Panthera leo krugeri) in the shade.

A handsome kudu

Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) resting confidently in its

North American Wood stork (Mycteria americana).

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Scheherazade said...

Loved the photos especially the Flamingos in reflection. My question is, how do they keep these plants from drying out in the summer heat? Especially those in the basins and on rocks. I realize that some are plants that adapt well to dry conditions, but I have huge containers that dry out very quickly, so that I need to water every day. I'm not far from Jacksonville.

GoGardenNow said...

Good question. I expect they have installed adequate irrigation.