Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Touring Zoo Miami – Part I

One of the attractions that Dawn really wanted to visit was Zoo Miami, also known as the Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens.  Laurie and I really like animals so we were all for this adventure!  Best of all, the weather was marvelous…lots of sunshine with temperatures in the mid to upper 70s with relatively low humidity.  

Zoo Miami or Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens was formerly known as Miami MetroZoo.  It is the largest and oldest zoological garden in Florida, and it has the distinction of being the only tropical zoo in the United States.

In 1965, Hurricane Betsy devastated the zoo and caused the death of 250 animals. After that hurricane there was talk of a new zoo for Dade County, but nothing was done until 11 December 1970, when Dade County officials applied for 600 acres of land from the Richmond Naval Air Station property, a former WWII anti-submarine blimp base.  Construction began in 1975 and Miami MetroZoo opened in 1980.  

These pink Flamingos are about the first thing you see after entering the zoo… I believe that these are American Flamingos, a large species of flamingo closely related to the Greater Flamingo and Chilean Flamingo.  The American Flamingo breeds in the Galápagos, coastal Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, along the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Cuba, Hispaniola, The Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.  Their life expectancy of 40 years is one of the longest in birds.

As you will see below, these birds are one of Zoo Miami’s iconic exhibits…

In 1992, a visitor named Hurricane Andrew came to the Zoo!  This iconic photo shows the Zoo’s flamingos huddled together in a restroom.  They stayed here for the duration of the storm… As you may recall from the headlines back in August of 1992, the zoo and much of the rest of South Florida suffered severe damage when Andrew swept ashore.   This photo served as a rallying image for the eventual rebuilding and recovery of ZooMiami.

After the storm, zoo staff discovered this Sun Bear amid the fallen trees.  He was doing just fine and suffered no injuries.  However this small but powerful Category 5 hurricane toppled over 5,000 trees at the zoo.  While preparing for the storm, zookeepers didn’t manage to get a large Rhino indoors.  After the storm when they went back outside, they found the Rhino standing relatively unscathed amongst the devastation.

The post-storm zoo, though looking quite different, was reopened in December 1992.  By July 1993, many of the animals had been returned to Metrozoo, and 7,000 new trees had been planted to begin restoring the zoo.

We were startled by the first 'animal exhibit' that we encountered upon entering Zoo Miami!  Laurie and I are sure that our grandson, Emmett Lee, would love this display.  He is a true LEGO fan!

Zoo Miami currently features "Creatures of Habitat”, a huge muli-million piece LEGO animal adventure!   There were many of these displays to look at.  The LEGO “Creatures of Habitat exhibit made up of LEGO® bricks, came to Zoo Miami from the Philadelphia Zoo…via Utah’s Hogle Zoo.
In this scene, Humboldt Penguins explore the rocky shores of Punta San Juan, Peru, home to colonies of Humboldt penguins. The idea is to educate visitors, especially children, about the harmful effects to the penguin of over-fishing, seabird and marine mammal communities.  

In this display, it’s a LEGO Polar Bear Journey into the arctic tundra with 8 ½ foot polar bear stranded on a melting ice floe.  The intent is to learn what changes can be made to reverse the loss of the polar ice caps before it’s too late.

Other displays include Micronesian Kingfisher travels to the island of Guam;  13 Golden Lion Tamarins in a Brazilian paradise; a Diamond-backed Terrapin; a Borneo Rainforest, and; a Harlequin Frog.

Interestingly, this exhibit was not assembled in conjunction with the LEGO Group.  Instead, a LEGO Certified Professional and his team spent 6 months to create the 32 individual sculptures that make up the exhibit.  I had no idea that there was such a thing as a “LEGO Professional”!

Leaving the LEGO exhibit, we encountered this Siamang.  Siamang are tailless, arboreal, black-furred gibbons native to the forests of Malaysia, Thailand, and Sumatra.  The Siamang is the largest of the ‘lesser’ apes and they can be twice the size of other gibbons.

The Siamang is quite distinctive.  They have 2 digits on each foot that are partially joined by a membrane.  They also have a large gular sac, which is a throat pouch that can be inflated to the size of the Siamang's head.  This pouch allows these apes to make loud, resonating calls or songs.  The Siamang can live more than 30 years in captivity.

Orangutans are the only Asian species of great apes.  They are native to Indonesia and Malaysia but Orangutans are currently found in only the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.  Orangutans spend most of their time in trees. Males and females differ in size and appearance.  Dominant adult males have distinctive cheek pads and produce long calls that attract females and intimidate rivals.  Adult males can be as tall as 5 feet 9 inches and they can weigh up to 260 lbs. 

They are the most solitary of the great apes although mother Orangutans stay together with their offspring for the first 2 years after they’re born.  Fruit is the most important component of an Orangutan's diet.  However, they will also eat vegetation, bark, honey, insects and even bird eggs. They can live over 30 years in both the wild and captivity.  Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates.  They use a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage.

This is a Cuban Crocodile.  It has several characteristics that make it different than other crocodilians.  This includes such things as its brighter adult colors, rougher, more 'pebbled' scales, and long, strong legs.  It isn’t a large Crocodile. Large males reach no more than 11 feet in length and usually don't weigh more than 475 lbs.

The Cuban crocodile can only be found in Cuba's Zapata Swamp and on the Isle of Youth.  It is highly endangered.  Its range was much broader in the past… Fossils of this species have been found in the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas.  The Cuban Crocodile favors freshwater habitat such as swamps, marshes, and rivers.  A colony of this species at Gatorland Florida has exhibited what is strongly suspected to be pack-hunting behavior.  The Cuban Crocodile is also the most terrestrial of Crocodiles…and also possibly the most intelligent.

This striking pair of Malayan or Asian Tapir is the largest of the five species of Tapir and it’s the only one native to Asia.  Their hair pattern is for camouflage.  The disrupted coloration makes it more difficult to recognize it as a Tapir.  

Malayan Tapirs grow to between 5 ft. 11 in. and 7 ft. 10 in. in length. They are large, standing up to 3 ft. 6” tall and weighing in at up to 1,190 lbs. 
Malayan Tapirs are vegetarians… They forage for the tender shoots and leaves of more than 115 species of plants, moving slowly through the forest and pausing often to eat and note the scents left behind by other Tapirs in the area.  When threatened or frightened, despite its considerable bulk, the Tapir can run quickly, and they can also defend themselves with its strong jaws and sharp teeth. 

The Wings of Asia Aviary, which opened in the spring of 2003, is home to more than 300 birds, representing 70 species.
The Sarus Crane is a large non-migratory crane found in parts of the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australia.  It’s the tallest of the flying birds, standing at a height of up to 5.9 feet.  This crane is easily distinguished by its overall gray color and its contrasting red head and upper neck.  They forage on marshes and shallow wetlands for roots, tubers, insects, crustaceans and small vertebrate prey.

Like other cranes, Sarus Cranes form long-lasting pair-bonds and maintain territories within which they perform territorial and courtship displays that include loud trumpeting, leaps and dance-like movements. In India they are considered symbols of marital fidelity. 

I’ve always wondered what the visual clue might be when viewing herons and cranes.  It turns out that cranes fly with necks outstretched, not pulled back.

As with the butterflies we observed at the Fairchild Gardens, these ‘dang’ birds don’t fly around wearing little identifying signs… I included this striking avian just because I liked his/her looks!

I’m pretty sure that this is a dove… So I figured…just how tough would it be to look it up on the Internet and identify it?!  As it turned out…good luck!  There are a plethora of doves and their closely related relatives…pigeons.  I discovered that there are roughly 316 varieties of doves and pigeons!  I gave up my efforts to ID this bird…  If you’d like to give it a try, check out a very extensive list of these species at

I think that Pheasants are some of the most beautiful birds…but once again, good luck identifying them!  I found a couple of species on the Internet that resembled this bird…but none had the full ‘face-mask’ like this one does.  For information about the pheasants of the world as well as a list of the many varieties of this bird, just go to

Here is one of the many colorful breeds of ducks that are on display in the flight cage… It reminded me of our North American Wood Ducks…or perhaps an Asian Mandarin Duck.  However a little research revealed that it is neither of those species.

I included this photo just to provide a perspective… This big tree with its roosting cranes is completely enclosed within this giant flight cage!  This ‘new’ Wings of Asia Aviary opened in the spring of 2003.  Hurricane Andrew destroyed the preceding aviary back in 1992…even though it had been designed to withstand winds of up to 120 mph!  The 300 birds that had been in the aviary at that time were lost…

I was curious if any of these escapees had survived and perhaps begun breeding in South Florida.  It turns out that the Purple Swamphen, (shown above), is probably the only species that has established itself in the area.   Six to eight birds escaped from the Miami MetroZoo and several others escaped from private pens following the hurricane.   

These birds are established in storm water treatment areas north of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, Everglades National Park, and Big Cypress National Preserve.  They are omnivorous, and can live in colonies numbering 50 or more.  Purple swamphens are territorial and aggressive, even among themselves.

Finally…!  A bird that I can positively identify!  The Indian Peafowl or Peacock belongs to the pheasant family.  It is native to South Asia, but it’s been introduced and is semi-feral in many other parts of the world.

In its native setting, the Indian Peafowl is found mainly on the ground in open forest or on land under cultivation where they forage for berries and grains but they will also prey on snakes, lizards, and small rodents. Their loud calls make them easy to detect, and in forest areas their call often indicate the presence of a predator.  They avoid flying although they will fly into tall trees to roost. This bird is celebrated in Indian and Greek mythology and it’s the national bird of India.

Now onto something that’s even easier to identify!  Who doesn’t love elephants?!  The Asian Elephant is found throughout Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east.  Asian Elephants are the largest living land animals in Asia.

Since 1986, the Indian or Asian Elephant has been listed as endangered as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations.  In 2003, the wild population was estimated at between 41,410 and 52,345 individuals. The earliest indications of domestication of Asian elephants are engravings on seals of the Indus Valley civilization dated as the third millennium BC.

In general, the Asian elephant is smaller than the African elephant.   The shoulder height of males rarely exceeds 9 feet and for females the maximum is about 8 feet. The average weight of a female is 2.72 tons (4,840 lbs.) and a large bull elephant weighs in at 10,800 lbs.  The largest recorded Asian bull elephant stood 11 feet tall at its shoulders and it weighed 17,600 lbs.! (That’s a little more than the combined weight of 3 - 2012 Cadillac Escalade EXTs!)

This is a pair of Sumatran Rhinoceros…one of five species of rhinoceroses. This is the smallest rhinoceros, standing no higher than 4 feet 9 inches at the shoulder, and with a weight of usually no more than 2,200 lbs.

Members of this species once inhabited rainforests, swamps, and cloud forests in India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China.  They are now critically endangered, with only 6 substantial populations in the wild: 4 on Sumatra, 1 on Borneo, and 1 in the Malay Peninsula.  They are estimated to number fewer than 275 survivors in the wild.

The decline in the number of Sumatran rhinoceroses is attributed primarily to poaching.  Their horns are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine, bringing as much as $30,000 for 2 lbs. 3 oz. of horn on the black market.

This is a Sunda or lesser one-horned rhinoceros.  It’s more popularly known as the Javan rhinoceros.  He or she didn’t want to come out of the water for a photo session… Only adult males of this species have horns.

This was once the most widespread of Asian rhinoceroses.  It ranged from the islands of Java and Sumatra, throughout Southeast Asia, and into India and China. The species is now critically endangered, with only one known population in the wild… It is possibly the rarest large mammal on earth!  There is a population of as few as 40 in Ujung Kulon National Park at the western tip of Java in Indonesia. 

The Sunda rhino can live approximately 30–45 years in the wild.  It historically inhabited lowland rain forest, wet grasslands and large floodplains. The Sunda rhino is mostly solitary, except for courtship and offspring-rearing, though groups may occasionally congregate near wallows and salt licks. Aside from humans, adults have no predators in their range. Scientists and conservationists rarely study the animals directly due to their extreme rarity and the danger of interfering with such an endangered species.

What would a tour of any zoo be without checking out the King of Beasts!  However, as usual these big cats were just lying around and sleeping.  One of Lionesses actually raised her head while we watched! 

With some males exceeding 550 lbs. the African Lion is the second-largest living cat after the tiger. Wild lions currently exist in sub-Saharan Africa and there are still a few living in Asia, where an endangered remnant population resides in Gir Forest National Park in India.  Other populations and types of lions have disappeared from North Africa and Southwest Asia in historic times.  Until about 10,000 years ago, the lion was the most widespread large land mammal after humans.  They were found in most of Africa, across Eurasia from Western Europe to India, and in the Americas from the Yukon to Peru.

This handsome fellow is an African Wild Ass.  He is a wild member of the horse family.  This species is believed to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey.  These wild asses live in the deserts and other arid areas of the Horn of Africa, in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.  It’s range originally extended north and west into Sudan, Egypt, and Libya.  Only about 570 individuals exist in the wild!

African wild asses have tough digestive systems, which can break down desert vegetation and extract moisture from food efficiently.  They can also go without water for a fairly long time.  Their large ears give them an excellent sense of hearing and they help in cooling the animals in the desert heat.  They have very loud voices, which can be heard for almost 2 miles.  This helps them keep in contact with other asses over the wide spaces of the desert.

The Asian Small-Clawed Otter is the smallest otter species in the world.  It weighs no more than 11 pounds.  It lives in in the mangrove swamps and freshwater wetlands of Bangladesh, Burma, India, southern China, Taiwan, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.  Its paws have developed to give this otter a high degree of manual dexterity.  This enables it to use its paws to feed on mollusks, crabs and other small aquatic animals.

These otters dislike bare and open areas that don’t offer much shelter.  They like to choose areas with low vegetation and their nesting burrows are dug into the muddy banks.  Unlike most other otters, the Asian Small-Clawed Otter spends most of their time on land.  

The Demoiselle Crane is found in central Eurasia, ranging from the Black Sea to Mongolia and North Eastern China.  There is also a small breeding population in Turkey.  These cranes are migratory birds.  Birds from western Eurasia will spend the winter in Africa whilst the birds from Asia, Mongolia and China will spend the winter in the Indian subcontinent.

The Demoiselle is the smallest species of crane.  As Laurie and I have seen on the National Geographic Channel, Demoiselle Cranes make one of the toughest migrations in the world.  In late August through September, they gather in flocks of up to 400 individuals and prepare for their flight to their winter range.  They reach altitudes of 16,000-26,000 feet as they cross the Himalayan Mountains to get to their over-wintering grounds in India.  Many die from fatigue, hunger and predation from Golden Eagles.  In March and April, they begin their long spring journey back over the Himalayans to their northern nesting grounds.

The Black-necked Stork is a tall long-necked wading bird in the stork family. (In  this photo however, he's resting on his "knees".) It’s found across South and Southeast Asia with another grouping living in Australia. It lives in wetland habitats where it forages for a wide range of animal prey.  In Australia, this stork is sometimes called a Jabiru.  This is one of the few storks that is strongly territorial when feeding.  Black-necked Storks can be as tall as 5 feet with a wingspan of up to 7 foot 7 inches!  

This is a Banteng, a species of wild cattle found in Southeast Asia.  Banteng have been domesticated in several locales across their range.  It’s estimated that there are 1.5 million domesticated banteng, which are called Bali cattle.  Bali cattle are used as working animals and for their meat.  Banteng were also introduced to Northern Australia, where they have established stable feral populations. 

The banteng is similar in size to domestic cattle.  In the wild, Banteng live in sparse forests where they feed on grasses, bamboo, fruit, leaves and young branches. Wild banteng are generally active both night and day, but in places where humans are common they adopt a nocturnal schedule.

In the wild, banteng are considered an endangered species.  They are the second endangered species to be successfully cloned.  Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, MA extracted DNA from banteng cells kept in the San Diego Zoo's "Frozen Zoo" facility, and transferred it into eggs from domestic cattle, a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer.  One of the banteng offspring survived and lived at the San Diego Zoo.

Here is one of the infamous Komodo Dragons… It’s also known as the Komodo Monitor.  This large species of lizard is found in Indonesian on Komodo Island and 5 other islands.  This is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of about 10 feet and weighing up to 150 lbs.

Their unusually large size has been attributed to island ‘gigantism’, since no other carnivorous animals fill the niche on the islands where they live.  However, recent research suggests the large size of Komodo dragons may be better understood as representative of a relict population of very large lizards that once lived across Indonesia and Australia.  Fossils very similar to the Komodo dragon have been found in Australia that date back more than 3.8 million years.
As a result of their size, these lizards dominate the ecosystems in which they live.  Komodo dragons hunt and ambush prey including invertebrates, birds, and mammals.  The diet of big Komodo dragons mainly consists of deer, though they also eat considerable amounts of carrion.  Komodo dragons also occasionally attack humans.  Amazingly enough, Komodo dragons were not recorded by Western scientists until 1910.

I couldn’t help but notice this ‘exotic’ creature posing on a trash bin close to the Komodo dragon’s habitat.  This is of course, an eastern gray squirrel and ZooMiami is a form of squirrel paradise!  The woods surrounding our house in East Tennessee are full of these squirrels.  Many people think of these rodents as pests…but they sure are entertaining to watch! 

This squirrel has been introduced to and is thriving in several regions of the western USA.  For better, or in many cases, worse, gray squirrels have also been introduced into Ireland, Britain, Italy and South Africa.  This squirrel has largely displaced the native red squirrel in England and in parts of Ireland.

Did I mention that the pathway leading to Zoo Miami's 100+ exhibits is about 3 miles around!  Fortunately, during our visit it wasn’t too hot and the humidity was minimal.  However, we were dragging a bit by the time we finished our tour!  This monorail operates throughout the zoo, with 4 different stops.  I did consider buying tickets, ($3.00 for an all-day pass), but with only 4 stops we would have been backtracking and our trek would have even been longer.

Other options for touring Zoo Miami are the Tram Tours, ($4.95 each), and the Safari Cycle Rentals.  A 2-person cycle can be rented for $22.00 and the large 4-person cycle costs $32.00.  By the time we finished our visit to the zoo, the cycles were sounding like a great idea!

That’s about it for Part I of our visit to Zoo Miami.  Part II will follow within a week or so.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by and sharing our Zoo Miami experience!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. What a fun experience to see this marvelous zoo through your lens. Your shots are just incredible David, especially of some of the birds and that ape. He looks like he is enjoying his day. The flamingos in the bathroom during the hurricane look like a bunch of girls huddled together gossiping. Love this post!

  2. Wow! I feel like I was there with you guys. What an exciting day...I've never been to a zoo before. The photos are great. I really love the first pic of the flamingos. Thanks for sharing, Dave!


  3. really amazing pictures David!
    I love the elephant!!