Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. We had regular school field trips to the zoo through elementary school. My mom also purchased family passes every year and we spent a lot of weekends viewing animal exhibits, learning about nature, and riding the park train. Over the years, I have enjoyed watching the zoo evolve into the beautiful and educational park that it is today.
Once we’d had our fill of the food truck rally, we decided to take Dustin and Bekah on a tour of the Zoo.
History of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
The Municipal Zoo opened it’s doors in the Springfield neighborhood of Jacksonville on May 12, 1914. At that time, the zoo featured only one animal – a red deer fawn – that was donated. Domestic animals and monkeys were added before the zoo relocated to 37.5 acres on Trout River, its present site.
In 1926, the Zoo bought its first major purchase, a female Asian Elephant, with money raised by school children. By the end of the 1960s, the Zoo was reputed to have the largest collection of exotic animals in the Southeast.
The most noted animal in the zoo’s history is Zorro, a black jaguar that arrived at the zoo in August 1967. During Zorro’s 19 years at the zoo, he fathered numerous cubs that were sent to other zoos across North America. In 2003, the Jax Zoo conducted an investigation and couldn’t find a current North American captive-born black jaguar that was not a descendent of Zorro.
These days the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens sits on 89 acres of land and houses over 2,400 rare and exotic animals and over 1,500 unique plant species.
Visiting the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
The zoo is separated into loops featuring flora and fauna from specific geographical locations. (Click the map for a larger view.) For an additional fee, you can ride the train around the perimeter of the zoo for a special behind-the-scenes tour of the park.
The zoo also offers visitors the chance to get up close and personal with giraffes. Visitors of any age can feed the giraffes and Adam didn’t pass up the opportunity. The giraffes know there is always food available so they rotate through the exhibit for snacks.
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is open seven days a week and often hosts special events in partnership with local businesses and vendors. The always popular Brew at the Zoo is scheduled to take place in October. This event features over 200 craft and imported beers and food from over 60 local restaurants. All proceeds from the event benefit the care and feeding of the zoos inhabitants.
For more information on the zoo and upcoming events, visit jacksonvillezoo.org.