It was a long drive from Port Canaveral to Atlanta after our cruise, so we kept an eye out for something to do to break up the trip. Since I like to investigate every zoo we pass for potential bear friends, I looked into the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, and lo and behold, it has a bear!
Lions, Tigers, and Bears, and more!
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens covers 93 acres and has more than 2,000 animals and 1,000 exotic plant species. But I’m only really there for one animal – Betsy, the zoo’s 4-year-old black bear. Betsy was found orphaned in Virginia and taken in by a human family before being taken to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. When the WCV tried to reintroduce her into the wild, she turned up looking for human friends at a local Dollar General Store. Since she couldn’t be reintroduced to the wild, the Jacksonville Zoo took her in. She now lives in the Wild Florida Exhibit where she has plenty of space to roam, a swimming pool to splash around in, and snacks to gnaw on, which is just what we found her doing when we got there.
But since there were more animals to see than just the bear, and since Betsy was more interested in her lunch than anything else, I allowed Kevin to drag me away. The good thing is that the Jacksonville Zoo has plenty of big cats, which are also a lot of fun! First up were the leopards, who were taking their noonday cat nap. Next were the lions. The zoo has 7 lions roaming about the Plains of East Africa. They were also looking sleepy.
We made our way toward the back of the zoo, passing by a ton of monkeys, and huge gorillas, to South America and the Range of the Jaguars. This two-time national award-winning exhibit is set against a replica of a Mayan temple that houses inside it some truly terrifying giant snakes. The jaguars were zonked out and camouflaged very well, but we managed to spot one asleep right by the glass window.
Next we wandered through Australia and then Asia, where we walked through a Japanese garden and found a bamboo forest. I had some serious flashbacks to my spider-in-the-bamboo fiasco at Chestatee Wildlife Preserve, but I persevered. And it’s a good thing I did because I found a family of panda bears hiding in the bamboo!
All the way at the very end of the Asia exhibit is the Land of the Tigers. This was a crowded exhibit as we got there just in time for a tiger trainer talk and demonstration. As the one tiger showed off in exchange for food, the other tigers lounged in the pool and waterfall to cool off in the summer heat.
By then, we were as hot as the tigers, only we didn’t have a nice pool to cool off in. And we realized that we had missed most of the Africa exhibit, so we still had more to accomplish before we left! We rushed back through the zoo, stopping to say goodbye to Betsy the bear of course, and took just enough time to appreciate the giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and cheetahs before finally getting back on the road for home.
What’s your favorite exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens? Let me know in the comments!