A Hot Day at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
At a sweltering 93 degrees in the Florida sun, I made my way down Zoo Parkway and into the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
I like animals, when they are cute and cuddly -- typically the ones that sit stuffed on my bed. But, as per my goal to do new and fun things in Jacksonville, I decided to venture forth and see if I could find some animals that were more live, caged and that could kill me at any second.
Pulling into the zoo parking lot, I noticed it was well marked, instructing patrons to follow arrows to find available spots. I looked to my right and noticed an empty space and a very large “do not enter” sign -- I could have gone straight and found myself in a much less desirable spot. So looking both ways, I scanned for parking police and turned right into the “do not enter” sign. I pulled into the coveted spot and looked up. There, I saw the zoo’s front gates. Yes, I had successfully parked in the front row of the lot!
Proud of this accomplishment, I made my way to the admission window. General admission is $13 but a 10 percent discount is offered for AAA members and the military. Children under 12 is $8 and children under 2 are free. Seniors 65 and up pay $11.
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (full and official name) stretches 92 acres of various animals and plants. It is divided up into 10 “loops,” representing the countries the animals are from. First on my tour, the Africa Loop, featuring animals from (you guessed it) all over Africa.
I saw crocodiles swimming in a pond covered with green algae and looking like floating logs in the water, until they sprang to life. I met the leopard, a beautiful animal who likes to pace. Literally, the leopard would get up and walk back and forth as if it was in deep thought.
Africa Loop led me through the sub-loop, Lion Loop. Lion Loop had two lions hanging out on a rock. I met up with some massive elephants and saw Bongos, the largest and heaviest of the forest antelope. In the reptile house, I saw some of the scariest snakes I have ever encountered, including a Viper with a spike on its head.
I moved along to the Giraffe overlook. There, I could pay and feed the giraffes. I decided to spend my money on a bottle of water instead, but did enjoy being able to get so close to those magnificent creatures.
Traveling on with my safari, I hit up Wild Florida, where black bears, red wolves, bobcats, bald eagles and Florida panthers were all on display. This exhibit reminded me of Grandfather Mountain, back in Linville, North Carolina. It stands 5,946 feet above sea level and features a mile-high bridge, literally, a mile-high, and wildlife exhibits including Mildred, a black bear you can feed, and eagles.
However, back in the Jacksonville Zoo, I was most excited to see the penguin exhibit. Penguins in Florida; the concept seemed crazy to me. I expected a temperature controlled room visitors could walk through. I even thought I would see ice as the penguins waddled around.
But I was shocked when I found the exhibit and the penguins were sitting in the sun or swimming in the pool provided for them. The volunteer at the exhibit informed me of 17 varieties of penguins and four of those varieties are able to thrive in warm climates. Fascinated and saddened not to see ice in Florida, I moved on to the South America Loop, home to jaguars and some monkeys. I passed through the Walkabout to Australia and checked out the kangaroos and wallabies.
The heat was getting to me and I decided to call it a day. Searching for the exit, I came across Play Park, with a “splash ground” for children. Frolicking in the water fountains looked like fun, but unfortunately, I was too tall (and maybe too old) to participate in the water-laden playground.
Distracted by my need to cool off, I got lost. Perhaps I was feeling dizzy from the heat, but I thought I saw my brother and sister in the distance. Turns out, I had stumbled into the ape exhibit and it was just a few of the primates hanging out.
Still lost, I asked a helpful staff member to help me locate the exit, and thanks to my superb parking job, I was able to spot my car before I even walked out the gate.
My only wish is that I had been able to visit the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens on a cooler day. It was a lot of fun and had some great exhibits, many I had never seen before, and I hope to go back and see my siblings again soon.
Mary Elizabeth Robertson is a journalism student spending her summer on the First Coast. She'll be interning for the Jacksonville Observer and writing a twice-weekly column about her experiences called New Girl in Town.
Got a suggestion for something thing Mary Elizabeth should try? Post a comment below!