Zoological Wildlife Foundation – Miami
[Miami, FL, Fri, Dec 29, 2017]
For my Christmas present, B cooked up a major surprise. He had me completely confused – he said to not wear any jewelry, wear something comfortable and bring my big camera. I was trying to figure out where he could be taking me given those requirements, but it wasn’t until we were at the gate of the Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Miami that he told me we would be doing the VIP tour, complete with animal encounters!
Although I couldn’t wait to share my amazing experience at ZWF on the blog, I was also a little anxious about writing this post. As I was looking through the Zoological Wildlife Foundations’s Instagram account, I saw exactly the kinds of comments I was afraid of – blunt and sweeping hateful indictments of keeping animals enclosed without much consideration of the important conservation work ZWF and other responsible wildlife foundations and zoos do. The animals who live at ZWF are rescued from canned hunting and other inhumane practices in their native habitat, or are participating in vital captive breeding programs that ensure threatened and critically endangered species are not lost. For further reading on humane and responsible zoos and wildlife foundations, I recommend reading this Time magazine article. The ZWF website also details their work.
ZWF is an appointment-only zoo, so if you plan to visit, be sure to reserve your spot in advance. The earlier in the day you come, the better – the animals, especially the big cats, are more likely to be awake. Given Miami’s hot weather most of the year, earlier hours will also make for a more comfortable experience for you, especially in the summer. They are located way to the South between Miami and the Everglades, so be sure to allow plenty of time to get there.
ZWF offers a one-hour and a three-hour tour. Boris had booked us for the 3-hour tour, which meant we saw all the animals in the zoo and had animal encounters with gibbons, sloths, owls and jaguar and white lion cubs. Our guide was amazing, we learned so much from her about each animal as well as general info about the species and the threats they face in the wild. We took a ton of photos but I’ll try to share just the best ones with you as well as the highlights of each encounter. I also took lots of videos, so be sure to check those out.
First up were the capuchin monkeys. We had a bowl of apples and other yummy fruits and veggies with us, so they were very happy to see us. These first photos and the first video are of a yellow-faced capuchin, and the second video is of a tufted capuchin.
Both lesser and giant anteaters live here. The giant anteaters were asleep, but this lesser anteater was quite sociable. Take a look at their claws! They can go through concrete with those things. If they really wanted to, they could make mince meat of their cages, but they are happy being fed and taken care of.
Next up were some of the big cats – a regual lion, a white lion and a tiger. Their handler came to say hi and they rushed towards him to greet him through the bars by rubbing their heads against his hand.
Then we had our first animal encounter – the gibbons. We went into their cage and spent a good twenty minutes feeding them and interacting with them. They are adorable. Their little faces are so human-like, it’s almost unnerving. We share 98% of our DNA with monkeys.
Seeing them up-close like this made me appreciate the adaptations Mother Nature gave them to help them make the most of their environment. They have really long arms and their shoulder sockets seem to be able to rotate 360 degrees. They also have thumbs on their feet! They really took a liking to us and started grooming both of us. They even looked in Boris’ pockets and up his shorts. 🙂
Out next encounter was with the sloths. They made me think of the movie Zootopia, which is totally worth seeing by the way. They really move in slow motion! It makes it really conducive to taking a selfie. 🙂
Here’s another monkey species – squirrel monkeys. What I found fascinating (and gross) about them is that they pee on their hands and feet, which is why they are yellow. They do this for various reasons – to mark the trail for fellow members of their group and to display dominance, among others.
Enough with monkeys – time for some more cats. Here as a jaguar couple – one spotted and one black. They are the parents to the baby jaguar I got to pet later! We learned that the black jaguar is not really black – she is spotted but has a thin sheen of black on top. In the sun, you can make out her spots underneath the black sheen.
And more tigers – regular and golden tabby. They are just so gorgeous!
This snow leopard was asleep but I was able to get a decent photo of him. He was supposed to be sent up to a zoo up North to participate in a captive breeding program – there are less than 10,000 snow leopards left in the wild. The weather up there is better for him, too. Look at the size of his paw!
This is a red lemur – cute and curious. He had such an expressive face!
Next, we got to see several different species up close – an armadillo, which was fascinating to see balled up, an owl, a tarantula and a baby alligator. I got to hold all of these, including the tarantula. I am afraid of spiders but I managed to let the tour guide put it on my arm through my tears. 🙂
B loves owls and he was fascinated with the owl we saw here, named Hank. This photo of him admiring Hank’s talon makes me laugh every time I see it. Bs’ face is full of wonder, while Hank is looking straight at my camera going “Seriously?” 🙂
Hank wasn’t being very social, so we got to hang out with another owl, a specter owl called Rogue. B was in love! We were surprised to find that their bodies are actually quite tiny under all the feathers.
And now the highlight of the tour – hanging out with a six-week old Jaguar cub called Amber and a two-month old white lion cub called Dana. They were adorable! Amber, the jaguar cub, was tired and she fell asleep while we were in the room with her. Our tour guide picked her up and put her in my arms. Holding a baby jaguar in my arms melted my heart! She was so at peace! I cried like a baby and slobbered all over her. It was such an unforgettable experience!
Before we left, we also saw a baby capuchin, which would stick its tongue out if you blew softly on his face, and Limbani the chimp.
We also got into a cage with a macaque monkey – he was kind of crazy! Watch him go to town on this banana.
The entire experience was emotional, exciting, amazing, overwhelming and sad at the same time. Seeing all these animals up close and personal made me feel a kinship with them I never felt before. It actually made me feel small and insignificant, too. Most of these species are faster or stronger than us. The only advantage we have is our intelligence, our consciousness, and what do we use it for? To destroy their habitat and to kill them for sport or for decoration.
I am so thankful to B for gifting this one-of-a-kind experience to me! Amber’s beautiful face will be forever etched in my memory. 🙂