For the first time ever, there are four Malayan tigers at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society – a testament to the zoo’s role in helping restore the population of this seriously endangered species, its commitment to doubling the size of the tiger habitat, and the role the zoo has assumed in survival projects.
Together with the 229 accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Palm Beach Zoo have built an infrastructure to save endangered species like the Malayan Tigers – coordinating breeding programs across many institutions to ensure genetic diversity, implementing systems to safely animals between institutions, and forging partnerships with local, national, and international conservation organizations working on re-introducing these animals to their native ranges.
Visiting the Palm Beach Zoo, which has changed its name to incorporate “Conservation Society,” in its moniker and its mission, you can see this focus in the way the zoo has steadily moved away from the old-fashioned style of keeping animals in cages. Many of the 800 animals who live here are in realistic habitats, making your visit more like a safari, especially with camera in hand looking for rare “shots” of animals in wonderful poses.
There are about two miles of paths which meander through the zoo, but you are transported hundreds and thousands of miles to see these animals, many which are endangered, and in the process, learn about the animals and the conservation efforts underway.
I set out on the path, first to see the white alligator (it is massive), then the Siamang; then Malo, the ocelot – a tiny creature that is resting in a hammock, being cared by the vets because of arthritis. I come to the island habitat of a group of lemurs (the name means “ghost”) an endangered animal – and while a couple of them are lounging quietly on a rope, I manage to get a photo of one as it makes a leap onto the rope.
I reach Tiger Falls and Tiger River in the northwest corner of the zoo in the Australia Asia section.
Not surprisingly, the Malayan tigers are the top draw at the zoo – certainly, they are the most dramatic of creatures here – their black-caramel-and white stripes and huge, sharp teeth and mighty roar.
The Zoo has been home to Keemasan Mata, a nine-year-old male Malayan tiger, Berapi Api, an 11-year-old female Malayan tiger, and Angin, a four-year-old male Malayan tiger.
Bumi, a four-year-old male Malayan tiger whose name means “earth” in Indonesian, joined the Zoo as its newest resident on December 10, 2014 from Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.
The arrival of the fourth tiger coincided with the completion of a new section of the Henry & Charlotte Kimelman Tiger Habitat and Bumi’s transition was part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for Malayan tigers.
“This is historic for us,” explained Nancy Nill, associate curator for the Zoo. “We are excited to welcome our fourth Malayan tiger, Bumi, and make Zoo history by keeping four adult tigers on grounds all at once. Because the tiger habitat has doubled in size, we are now able to house this many adult tigers. This is a huge step for us, and it is a good feeling to know we are expanding our role in Malayan tiger conservation.”
“Even though Bumi is not recommended to breed at the moment, by having the space to hold him, we are allowing other institutions to be able to breed,” Nill continued. “This provides a greater chance for the captive population to increase.”
I am told that the nine-year old male, Mata, now in the new area, acts scared (if you can apply that word), when he hears the new tigers roar.
Mata’s roommate is an 11-year old female tiger named Berapi Api. It is the zoo’s hope – under a survival plan for the tigers – that they will mate.
Mata is no stranger to Berapi – she had rejected him years ago and mated instead with Mata’s brother, delivering three male Malayan tiger cubs, Jaya, Bunga and Penari, in 2011. But Mata now has had experience breeding, and it appears that Berapi is more interested in him than before.
“Keepers have to use their knowledge and judgment as to whether should be together,” I am told. “If they are in a bad mood, they won’t put them together. It’s like ‘Days of our Lives’.”
The keepers know what they are doing. The Palm Beach Zoo is a recognized leader in Species Survival Plan breeding programs for Malayan tigers, with three cubs born at the Zoo in 2011.
The wild Malayan tiger population has recently been estimated at fewer than 250 animals. Malayan tigers are the most endangered of the tiger subspecies, and they are among the smallest of the tiger species. Malayan tigers are indigenous to the Malay Peninsula, for which they are named. Initially, decline in tiger numbers was primarily due to a tremendous loss of habitat. More recently, the greater threat has been from poaching for its body parts, persecution by angry villagers, and starvation as their prey is over-harvested.
The Malayan tigers are one of 50 endangered species involved in the AZA’s Species Survival Plan at The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society.
Another is the Bali Mynah is one of the rarest birds in the world and it is frankly thrilling to see one – let alone photograph one – when I visit the Beuttenmuller Asian Aviary.
The notes give the reason why they are so rare: “Bali mynah have striking white plumage with black wing tips and bright blue coloration around the eyes and can approach 10 inches in height. They are nearly extinct in the wild because poachers collect them for the illegal pet trade, where they are valued for their striking plumage and beautiful songs. Because of this poaching, Bali mynahs are found almost exclusively in zoos. But much has been done to help the Bali mynah’s wild population recover, including protection of their native breeding grounds. In 1987, 40 Bali mynahs from US zoos were sent to the Surbaja Zoo in Indonesia to form a breeding group, with resulting offspring released into the wild. In 2009, Bali mynahs raised in managed care were introduced to a neighboring island, Nusa Penida, and seem to be doing well so far. “
“Every zoo in the SSP serves a vital purpose in sustaining the population of this critically endangered Bali mynah,” said Jan Steele, general curator for the Zoo. “And for us at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society, it’s to provide a rocking bachelor pad for young males until they’re old enough to settle down and raise a family.” (For a list of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums where you can see some of the birds in the survival program visit the AZA website: www.aza.org/SpeciesBeingSaved.)
The aviary houses many extraordinary birds I had never seen before: Chestnut-breasted Malkoha (brown, green) and masked lapwing, among them.
You never know what you will come upon as you walk the paths (which I gauge are about 2 miles worth), in and out of lushly landscaped sections, and the notes that are provided at each of the exhibits describe the conservation efforts as well as fascinating details about the various animals.
As I continue on my way, I see a peacock with its colorful plumage just strolling down the path like any person.
A couple of macaws greet me as I enter the Cornell Tropics of the Americas section which looks like a Mayan village in the jungle, complete with massive sculptures – I love the whole atmosphere of this place and how you discover the animals – bats inside of a “cave,” the giant anteater and Baird’s Tapir below a wooden bridge, Mexican Spider monkeys on their own island, a jaguar lapping at water.
The zoo offers a journey around the world, and then back home again: In the Florida Pioneer section, you see flamingos, Bald eagle conservation, roseate spoonbill, the Florida Panther, black bear, deer, and river otter, and there is a clever pioneer cabin to explore.
There are many marvelous venues that are playful, engaging and enchanting- the interactive play fountain, a safari train and a carousel, as well as shows and activities.
During the course of the day, you can see pelican feeding, a flamingo talk, the Wings Over Water bird show, jaguar talk, a Wild things show, black bear training, spider monkey feeding, panther talk and a Malayan tiger talk.
The safari experience comes to a climax at the Tropics cafe, commanding a stunning view of a small lake, and the Amazon Marketplace gift shop, which looks like a set out of an Indiana Jones movie. And it is marvelous.
A Model of Sustainability
The Palm Beach Zoo is in the midst of a major “sustainability effort” – in terms of being more eco-friendly, and modeling such approaches for guests, going as far adding “Conservation Society” to its name.
The zoo’s animal hospital was the first to be LEED-certified, and the zoo is building a new eco-friendly garden where it will raise food for the animals and even sells produce on the first and third Saturday of the month (outside the zoo’s gate from noon to 5 pm, you don’t even have to buy a zoo admission to take advantage). It even sells its own Palm Beach Coffee from Guatamala, designed “bird friendly” because the coffee plants are raised in such a way as to have minimal impact on bird habitat; it costs $14 a bag; (see more information at nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/coffee), and even has introduced a Conservation Leadership Lecture Series.
The zoo is in the process of installing solar panels, donated by the Florida Power & Light; encourages employees to carpool and all around the zoo are recepticals touting its “Zero Waste Initiative,” with a goal to recycle over 90%.
“The Zoo is focused on conservation and sustainability – we’re going green,” Angela Cruz Ledford, Media Relations Manager, tells me. “Our focus is not on entertaining public, but info-taining.”
The Zoo offers many marvelous programs that engage at every age (even vacationers or part-timers to Palm Beach can take advantage):
Animal Experiences, the latest innovation offered at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society allows you to safely meet and feed some of the world’s coolest animals. The “Giant Anteater Experience” brings you behind-the-scenes at the Zoo’s giant anteater habitat in the Harriet W. & George D. Cornell Tropics of the Americas. Take some photos and learn some amazing facts as you safely get up close to these amazing animals while feeding them their favorite treats. (The 25-minute program is limited to four people; you must register in advance; offered at 2 pm, Fridays-Mondays; geared to adults and children 3-and up; the introductory price is $15.)
The newest animal experience is the Kaola Experience where you can actually enter inside the Kaola habitat and get up-close to Oz, the male Queensland koala.
Other animal experiences include the Sloth Experience, Black Bear Experience, Capybara Experience and Giant Aldabra Tortoise Experience (see www.palmbeachzoo.org/animal-experiences).
Most captivating for me is the opportunity to overnight in the zoo, when you can meet the inhabitants of the night. This program is offered in the spring and fall just for families. Bring your sleeping bag and enjoy animal encounters, a night tour of the zoo, pizza snack, continental breakfast and wild activities, (Overnight programs must be reserved in advance and the program is designed for participants ages 6 and over).
An upcoming “I Love the Zoo” overnight will take place over Valentine’s Day, Saturday, February 14 that features guided tours, hands-on animal encounters, special Valentine activities and sweet treats for you and the animals too. (Click here for registration form.) Also, “Go Wild for Spring Break,” Saturday March 14 (For more information on overnights, call 561-533-0887 ext. 229, visit www.palmbeachzoo.org/family-overnights, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Palm Beach Zoo also offers Zoo Camp in summer – the back-to-back winner of the “Kids Crown Award” for Best Summer Camp in Palm Beach County, as voted by South Florida Parenting Magazine’s readers. Offered in week-long segments, children 5-17 years old experience zoo keeping activities, behind-the-scenes tours, scavenger hunts, enriching conservation education activities, and interactive fountain time (www.palmbeachzoo.org/zoo-camp).
Also, The Wildlife Conservation Academy is a week-long summer experience for high school students (ages 15-17) who are interested in zoological sciences, veterinary medicine, wildlife conservation and other animal-related careers. This is a chance to experience hands-on career related activities to see if you belong in the Zoo.
The Palm Beach Zoo is also very imaginative about organizing special events that make the visit that much more festive – for example, to celebrate the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Goat, the zoo will host Dragonfest, (Feb. 21, 10 am to 4 pm). Indeed, there is always something special going on, and every time you visit is different and an adventure.
Indeed, if you only visit twice, it is worthwhile to become a Zoo member, which comes with many extra benefits including invitations to Member’s Only events and exhibit openings, free admission to Summer Safari Nights series (June-August) and discounts on other evening events such as Roar & Pour; 10% discounts at the Zoo’s gift shops and concessions including the Tropics Cafe; and discounts a network of local businesses, attractions and restaurants (like half off at Zoo Miami and Brevard Zoo, see list).
You need a minimum of 2-3 hours to see the zoo, which has 800 animals on 23 acres.
Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society, 1301 Summit Boulevard, West Palm Beach, Florida 33405-3035, 561-547-9453, www.palmbeachzoo.org.
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