Friday, January 19, 2007

Miami MetroZoo Review

I visited the Miami MetroZoo during the first week of January, 2007. I was staying downtown at a hotel, and it was hard to get to the Zoo from downtown. Unlike many cities, which have easy public transportation to the zoo, Miami does not. Clearly they expect you to either rent a car or give the zoo a pass. The hotel concierge assured me a taxi would be over $100 each way and I would be better off renting a car from the hotel. He said public transportation was "unthinkable" given the number of transfers I'd have to take and he was loathe to even try to map out a route. Hating to drive in strange cities, I opted to take a taxi anyway, which was $50 one way. Unfortunately, the taxi refused to come pick me up afterwards, stating it was "too far away," as did five other cab companies. Luckily, they have a bus stop at the zoo, and luckily, if you get on it, then transfer to the Metrorail, then transfer to another bus, you can get downtown again for under $5 - but it takes over 3 hours. Not too fun, but not a lot of choices when stranded at the zoo (in the rain).

To walk through the entire zoo (3 miles), at a leisurely pace with pauses for photos, took only about 2.5 hours, unlike some zoos where you can easily spend a full day walking around. They have a tram tour, which I would recommend against, as you don't need it. They also offer an aerial tram you can catch at four locations so that you can get from one "dead end" part of the zoo to the other without retracing, which is nice. It's only $1 for unlimited rides. They also rent pedal-operated carts, sort of like bikes but in the shape of golf carts. Not necessary, and it makes it harder to see the animals, but it's an option. There's one "restaurant" where you can get buffet style pre-cooked hotdogs, burgers, etc., but the healthy eating options are minimal to non-existent. The best I could do was a pretzel with fake "cheese."

The animal containment areas are very nice. The habitats are roomy and natural. I didn't notice a lot of animal enrichment items, but it could have been the time or day I was there. Most animals had a companion with them and seemed relatively content. Many had natural family groups, which was great to see. There was no animal display area that made me feel sorry for the animal having to live within it, which I can say of few zoos indeed. None of the animals were pacing back and forth or seemed distraught. The zoo has suffered through a few hurricanes, which most zoos have not had to contend with, and so it seems to be a little tattered here and there, but that's understandable.

The crowds at the zoo were unusually loud. I don't know if it's a cultural thing, or an exceptionally LOUD zoo day, or what, but tons of families with small kids were yelling to the kids across a distance, with the kids yelling back, and no one seemed the least bit concerned about the animals being bothered by lots of screaming people. The animals seemed used to it - which did make me feel sorry for them. I myself had to stifle the urge to tell people to shut up for most of the visit. (Particularly at the idiot who didn't know the answers to the questions his kid asked, so he just made them up, wildly misinforming the next generation about the animal kingdom).

There's a nice giraffe feeding area, where for $2 you can feed and touch a giraffe. The giraffes have lots of space, seemingly more than the elephants, which was interesting. The elephants had a sprinkler to play with, which they really enjoyed. A tapir was having a great time in his pool, which was also fun to watch. The Asiatic otters (minature compared to the American version) are adorable. The zoo's breeding program has led to a young Black Rhino, which I was happy to see, given the level of trouble that species is in. They have two rare Indian One-Horned Rhinos (one pictured above)...see those while you still can, they are on the way off the planet. Many, if not most, of the exhibits had a few iguanas in them, and I was never clear on whether those were "native" or intentional zoo inhabitants - nothing was said on the signs about them.

The signs about the animals were below-par. They contained very little data if you're interested in learning about the animals. They didn't even say where they were from - they have unmarked maps. While adults might recognize the continents (we'd like to hope so) many kids won't, especially younger kids. They could easily have labeled where the animals were from and told more about them - something about social structure, etc. Instead they only tell you the animal is common, threatened, or endangered and a small paragraph of basic info - very basic. The reticulated giraffe sign doesn't tell you anything about what makes reticulated different from the other types of giraffes (shape of the spots) or how many other kinds there are, etc. I also ponder why zoos, which are supposed to be in existence at this point largely to help breed species in danger and do species conservation work and public education, are spending their time on the Reticulated rather than the endangered Rothschild giraffe. (I have no answer).

Overall, I give it four out of five stars, primarily because of the good conditions the animals were living in. As far as a pleasant zoo experience, given the transportation hassles and the loud, obnoxious crowds, not to mention the heat, even in January, it wasn't that fantastic, but it was still worth my time. Of course, I would rather spend a day with animals than not, and on the road zoos are one of the only ways to do so.

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