There’s nothing like a trip to the Naples Zoo, no matter what the time of year. But, during the Covid-19 pandemic, options for our usual outdoor activities were severely curtailed with strict parameters for safe participation, no matter what the venue. The Naples Zoo determined a safe way to make reservations ahead of time and then proceed through the gate to pick up your ticket socially distanced. Afterwards, we were free to take any one of the numerous, winding paths through the zoo wearing masks. Most visitors were careful not to intrude on the personal space of other visitors, especially when observing their fantastic exhibits in close contact and didn’t get tooooo close. We ordered our tickets and toured the zoo in January, but the same safety procedures are in place if you visit now.
In addition to the quality and variety of animals, amphibians, reptiles and birds, a spectacular supplement to these exhibits is the BRICKLIVE Animal Paradise, animals created with building bricks that are adjacent to the real animals viewed in captivity. The BRICKLIVE exhibits were impressive, with the totals of each building brick displayed nearby. Were they perfect replicas of the animals in the zoo? No, but they mimicked the major characteristics and that made it fun to compare and contrast the similarities and differences. The animals, birds and reptiles are made of flesh and blood and the BRICKLIVE animals are created by hundreds to thousands of building bricks. It was interesting to observe the number of building bricks that went into each creation; the final masterpieces were spectacular.
The zoo, by design, wasn’t crowded, which gave each group a chance to observe the exhibits feeling safe, and luckily, there was enough patience and consideration of others to go around on this beautiful day. The employees of the Naples Zoo were informative, devoted to their charges, and exemplary in their communication and knowledge. The environments for each type of critter were clean, spacious (well, as big as they can be under the size parameters of the 43-acre zoo) and contained hills and amusements for the critters like logs, balls, long pipes, water features or natural structures to roam or explore. Much like us, the animals and birds need variety and stimulation to increase their intelligence and general health.
Some of the surprising exhibits that we observed were the ancient trees and plants that were cultivated before the zoo property was called Jungle Larry’s. The wisdom and foresight in planting these trees for the preservation of the species was insightful. Now these gigantic, premium specimens are ages old and some of the most pristine examples of those species that exist today.
A Little Glimpse into the History of Naples Zoo
The Naples Zoo is also a botanical garden as a result of the work of Dr. Henry Nehrling way back in 1919. Dr. Nehrling was a botanist and ornithologist who worked diligently on the gardens until his passing in 1929. Sadly, after his passing the gardens were neglected and overgrown for almost twenty years. Enter Julius Fleischmann, who added new specialty plants and pathways to lakes he created on the property. He opened the renovated garden as Caribbean Gardens in 1954 with the addition of tropical birds. Mr. Fleischmann passed away in 1968.
Colonel Lawrence (Larry) and Jane Tetzlaff, aka Jungle Larry® and Safari Jane®, became the zoo’s caretakers in 1969 and changed the name to Jungle Larry’s. They introduced about 70 unique and exotic animals to the zoo. Jane and her family continued to expand the zoo’s footprint and improve the exhibits after Larry Tetzlaff passed away in 1984 and in 2001, the Naples Zoo got national accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
In 2002, the Fleischmann family was willing to sell the zoo property and the Tetzlaff family was hoping that Collier County would buy the land. The Fleischmann family allowed the Tetzlaff family and the county to come up with a plan. In 2004, a referendum was written and went to the voters regarding purchase of the land. This passed, with 73-percent of the voters favoring the purchase. Sometimes, all the pieces fall into place. To facilitate the zoo purchase by the county, the Tetzlaffs made the Zoo a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization and transferred control of the zoo to the Naples Zoo Board of Directors in 2005.
The main path through the zoo is about a mile long through exhibits and botanical wonders. Visitors can also observe previous historic efforts by taking the guided boat tour around Victoria Lake, the man-made lake that houses the primate’s islands in the middle, one of several that Fleischmann developed. It’s educational to see the primates climbing and playing with assorted recreational toys that keep them intellectually and physically stimulated with their siblings, families, and friends. Most of these animals on the islands are endangered animals.
The Naples Zoo partners with many other organizations to protect and preserve endangered or injured animals. For example, in 2018, a Florida Panther, Uno, was found after being shot between the eyes at close range and left for dead. After he was nursed back to health, he entered an exhibit with a familiar native environment to rest out his years with close observation and veterinary care. Sadly, Uno is not the only example of a rescued mammal, reptile or bird that becomes part of the display of the Naples Zoo, for obvious reasons.
Traversing the zoo was calm and beautiful, with flowers blooming everywhere and large, colorful BRICKLIVE animals, along with information about the animals that inspired the plastic creations. Periodically, there are live shows for the spectators and of course, we take advantage of learning new things whenever we can. We watched some of the trainers in action as they displayed their trainees and explained what they were doing to reward the animals and why. Fascinating! Can you imagine training a porcupine? Me either!
There are so many varieties of animals at The Naples Zoo, some similar and some not so recognizable. When you go, check out these exhibits and take in your new knowledge with pride; the muntjac, monitor lizard, red-rumped agoutis, fosa from Madagascar (pronounced foosa), yellow-backed duiker and many more that will astonish you. Try for early in the morning tickets when the temperature embraces you or choose another time of day, there’s plenty of shade. Learn and enjoy the history and environment of the fantastic Naples Zoo!