Going Places, Near & Far: See Survival Strategies at Palm Beach Zoo

Karen Rubin

For the first time ever, there are four Malayan tigers at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society – a testament to the zoo’s role in helping restore the population of this seriously endangered species, its commitment to doubling the size of the tiger habitat, and the role the zoo has assumed in survival projects.

The Palm Beach Zoo, together with the 229 accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), has built an infrastructure to save endangered species like the Malayan Tigers – coordinating breeding programs across many institutions to ensure genetic diversity, implementing systems to safely animals between institutions, and forging partnerships with local, national, and international conservation organizations working on re-introducing these animals to their native ranges.

Visiting the Palm Beach Zoo, which has changed its name to incorporate “Conservation Society,” in its moniker and its mission, you can see this focus in the way the zoo has steadily moved away from the old-fashioned style of keeping animals in cages. Many of the 800 animals who live here are in realistic habitats, making your visit more like a safari, especially with camera in hand looking for rare “shots” of animals in wonderful poses. It’s a real adventure because you never know what you will see.

There are about two miles of paths which meander through the zoo, but you are transported hundreds and thousands of miles to see these animals, many which are endangered, and in the process, learn about the animals and the conservation efforts underway.

I set out on the path, first to see the white alligator (it is massive), then the Siamang; then Malo, the ocelot – a tiny creature that is resting in a hammock, being cared by the vets because of arthritis. I come to the island habitat of a group of lemurs (the name means “ghost”) an endangered animal – and while a couple of them are lounging quietly on a rope, I manage to get a photo of one as it makes a leap onto the rope.

I reach Tiger Falls and the expanded habitat, Tiger River, in the northwest corner of the zoo in the Australia Asia section.

Not surprisingly, the Malayan tigers are the top draw at the zoo – certainly, they are the most dramatic of creatures here – their black-caramel-and white stripes and huge, sharp teeth, piercing eyes, and mighty roar.

The Zoo has been home to Keemasan Mata, a nine-year-old male Malayan tiger, Berapi Api, an 11-year-old female Malayan tiger, and Angin, a four-year-old male Malayan tiger.

Bumi, a four-year-old male Malayan tiger whose name means “earth” in Indonesian, joined the Zoo as its newest resident on December 10, 2014 from Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.

The arrival of the fourth tiger coincided with the completion of a new section of the Henry & Charlotte Kimelman Tiger Habitat and Bumi’s transition was part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for Malayan tigers.

“This is historic for us,” explained Nancy Nill, associate curator for the Zoo. “We are excited to welcome our fourth Malayan tiger, Bumi, and make Zoo history by keeping four adult tigers on grounds all at once. Because the tiger habitat has doubled in size, we are now able to house this many adult tigers. This is a huge step for us, and it is a good feeling to know we are expanding our role in Malayan tiger conservation.”

She added, “Even though Bumi is not recommended to breed at the moment, by having the space to hold him, we are allowing other institutions to be able to breed. This provides a greater chance for the captive population to increase.”

I am told that the nine-year old male, Mata, now in the new area, acts scared (if you can apply that word), when he hears the new tigers’ roar.

Mata’s roommate is an 11-year old female tiger named Berapi Api. It is the zoo’s hope – under a survival plan for the tigers – that they will mate.

Mata is no stranger to Berapi – she had rejected him years ago and mated instead with Mata’s brother, delivering three male Malayan tiger cubs, Jaya, Bunga and Penari, in 2011. But Mata now has had experience breeding, and it appears that Berapi is more interested in him than before.

“Keepers have to use their knowledge and judgment as to whether should be together,” I am told. “If they are in a bad mood, they won’t put them together. It’s like ‘Days of our Lives’.”

The keepers know what they are doing. The Palm Beach Zoo is a recognized leader in Species Survival Plan breeding programs for Malayan tigers, with three cubs born at the Zoo in 2011.

You appreciate what the zoo is doing when you learn that the wild Malayan tiger population has recently been estimated at fewer than 250 animals. Malayan tigers are the most endangered of the tiger subspecies, and they are among the smallest of the tiger species. Malayan tigers are indigenous to the Malay Peninsula, for which they are named. Initially, decline in tiger numbers was primarily due to a tremendous loss of habitat. More recently, the greater threat has been from poaching for its body parts, persecution by angry villagers, and starvation as their prey is over-harvested.

The Malayan tigers are one of 50 endangered species involved in the AZA’s Species Survival Plan at The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society.

Another is the Bali Mynah is one of the rarest birds in the world and it is frankly thrilling to see one – let alone photograph one – when I visit the Beuttenmuller Asian Aviary.

The notes give the reason why they are so rare: “Bali mynah are nearly extinct in the wild because poachers collect them for the illegal pet trade, where they are valued for their striking plumage and beautiful songs. Because of this poaching, Bali mynahs are found almost exclusively in zoos.” The zoos have worked to breed and raise Bali mynah and then release them into the wild. 

“Every zoo in the SSP serves a vital purpose in sustaining the population of this critically endangered Bali mynah,” said Jan Steele, general curator for the Zoo. “And for us at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society, it’s to provide a rocking bachelor pad for young males until they’re old enough to settle down and raise a family.” (For a list of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums where you can see some of the birds in the survival program visit the AZA website: www.aza.org/SpeciesBeingSaved.)

The aviary houses many extraordinary birds I had never seen before: Chestnut-breasted Malkoha (brown, green) and masked lapwing, among them.

You never know what you will come upon as you walk the paths which wind in and out of lushly landscaped sections, and the notes that are provided at each of the exhibits describe the conservation efforts as well as fascinating details about the various animals.

As I continue on my way, I see a peacock with its colorful plumage just strolling down the path like any person.

A couple of macaws greet me as I enter the Cornell Tropics of the Americas section which looks like a Mayan village in the jungle, complete with massive sculptures – I love the whole atmosphere of this place and how you discover the animals – bats inside of a “cave,” the giant anteater and Baird’s Tapir below a wooden bridge, Mexican Spider monkeys on their own island, a jaguar lapping at water.

The zoo offers a journey around the world, and then back home again: In the Florida Pioneer section, you see flamingos, Bald eagle conservation, roseate spoonbill, the Florida Panther, black bear, deer, and river otter, and there is a clever pioneer cabin to explore.

There are many marvelous venues that are playful, engaging and enchanting- the interactive play fountain, a safari train and a carousel, as well as shows and activities.

During the course of the day, you can see pelican feeding, a flamingo talk, the Wings Over Water bird show, jaguar talk, a Wild things show, black bear training, spider monkey feeding, panther talk and a Malayan tiger talk.

The safari experience comes to a climax at the Tropics cafe, commanding a stunning view of a small lake, and the Amazon Marketplace gift shop, which looks like a set out of an Indiana Jones movie. And it is marvelous.

A Model of Sustainability

The Palm Beach Zoo is in the midst of a major “sustainability effort” – in terms of being more eco-friendly, and modeling such approaches for guests, going as far adding “Conservation Society” to its name.

The zoo’s animal hospital was the first to be LEED-certified, and the zoo is building a new eco-friendly garden where it will raise food for the animals and even sells produce on the first and third Saturday of the month (outside the zoo’s gate from noon to 5 pm, you don’t even have to buy a zoo admission to take advantage). It even sells its own Palm Beach Coffee from Guatamala, designed “bird friendly” because the coffee plants are raised in such a way as to have minimal impact on bird habitat; it costs $14 a bag; (see more information at nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/coffee), and even has introduced a Conservation Leadership Lecture Series.

The zoo is in the process of installing solar panels, donated by the Florida Power & Light; encourages employees to carpool and all around the zoo are recepticals touting its “Zero Waste Initiative,” with a goal to recycle over 90%.

“The Zoo is focused on conservation and sustainability – we’re going green,” Angela Cruz Ledford, Media Relations Manager, tells me. “Our focus is not on entertaining public, but info-taining.”


The Zoo offers many marvelous programs that engage at every age (even vacationers or part-timers to Palm Beach can take advantage):

Animal Experiences, the latest innovation offered at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society allows you to safely meet and feed some of the world’s coolest animals. The “Giant Anteater Experience” brings you behind-the-scenes at the Zoo’s giant anteater habitat in the Harriet W. & George D. Cornell Tropics of the Americas. Take some photos and learn some amazing facts as you safely get up close to these amazing animals while feeding them their favorite treats. (The 25-minute program is limited to four people; you must register in advance; offered at 2 pm, Fridays-Mondays; geared to adults and children 3-and up; the introductory price is $15.)

The newest animal experience is the Kaola Experience where you can actually enter inside the Kaola habitat and get up-close to Oz, the male Queensland koala.

Other animal experiences include the Sloth Experience, Black Bear Experience, Capybara Experience and Giant Aldabra Tortoise Experience (see www.palmbeachzoo.org/animal-experiences).

Most captivating for me is the opportunity to overnight in the zoo, when you can meet the inhabitants of the night. This program is offered in the spring and fall just for families. Bring your sleeping bag and enjoy animal encounters, a night tour of the zoo, pizza snack, continental breakfast and wild activities, (Overnight programs must be reserved in advance and the program is designed for participants ages 6 and over).

An upcoming “I Love the Zoo” overnight will take place over Valentine’s Day, Saturday, February 14 that features guided tours, hands-on animal encounters, special Valentine activities and sweet treats for you and the animals too. (Click here for registration form.) Also, “Go Wild for Spring Break,” Saturday March 14 (For more information on overnights, call 561-533-0887 ext. 229, visit www.palmbeachzoo.org/family-overnights, or email education@palmbeachzoo.org.)

The Palm Beach Zoo also offers Zoo Camp in summer – the back-to-back winner of the “Kids Crown Award” for Best Summer Camp in Palm Beach County, as voted by South Florida Parenting Magazine’s readers. Offered in week-long segments, children 5-17 years old experience zoo keeping activities, behind-the-scenes tours, scavenger hunts, enriching conservation education activities, and interactive fountain time (www.palmbeachzoo.org/zoo-camp).

Also, The Wildlife Conservation Academy is a week-long summer experience for high school students (ages 15-17) who are interested in zoological sciences, veterinary medicine, wildlife conservation and other animal-related careers. This is a chance to experience hands-on career related activities to see if you belong in the Zoo.

The Palm Beach Zoo is also very imaginative about organizing special events that make the visit that much more festive – for example, to celebrate the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Goat, the zoo will host Dragonfest, (Feb. 21, 10 am to 4 pm). Indeed, there is always something special going on, and every time you visit is different and an adventure.

Indeed, if you only visit twice, it is worthwhile to become a Zoo member, which comes with many extra benefits including invitations to Member’s Only events and exhibit openings, free admission to Summer Safari Nights series (June-August) and discounts on other evening events such as Roar & Pour; 10% discounts at the Zoo’s gift shops and concessions including the Tropics Cafe; and discounts a network of local businesses, attractions and restaurants (like half off at Zoo Miami and Brevard Zoo, see list).

You need a minimum of 2-3 hours to see the zoo, which has 800 animals on 23 acres.

Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society, 1301 Summit Boulevard, West Palm Beach, Florida 33405-3035, 561-547-9453, www.palmbeachzoo.org.


From Brazil to Borneo, Wild Planet Adventures Reveals Travel Secrets for 2015 

SAUSALITO, CA – Wild Planet Adventures is sharing secrets for the five upcoming destinations for wildlife enthusiasts for 2015: Brazil, Borneo, India, Thailand and Zambia.

Over the last year, each of these countries has triumphed over a challenge, undergone a shift or revealed a special secret relevant to wildlife travel, according to Wild Planet’s founder Josh Cohen.

1) India’s Remote Assam Region: #1 Up & Coming Wildlife Destination for 2015 – In India’s northeast, the Assam region (between Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet and China) is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines encompassing two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the national parks of Manas and Kaziranga.

The secret, says wildlife expert Cohen: “Kaziranga’s huge concentrations of game rivals many parks in Africa. On safari here it’s typical to see over 40 Rhino, several herds of wild Elephant, up to 500 Ungulate and perhaps even a Tiger, all in your field of vision at once!”  With Wild Planet’s sustainable protocols, guests track Tigers by listening to warning cries, looking for pug marks and tracking kills, “which creates a more authentic, exciting and participatory wildlife safari experience.”  See: https://www.wildplanetadventures.com/destinations/?country=india

2) Brazil – The #1 Hot Travel Destination for 2015 – The World Cup and Olympic exposure have catapulted Brazil to the top of Wild Planet Adventure’s list of MOST popular destinations for 2015. The combination of safaris to spot Jaguar in the Pantanal (averaging nearly two sightings per day) with the wonders of the Amazon have created unprecedented demand. Many of fazienda (horse-ranch lodges) in the Pantanal report they are already nearly sold out for the 2015 season.

The secret? “Interested travelers must make their reservations now for the 2015 peak jaguar viewing season that starts in early July and continues through the end of October,” says Cohen. Wild Planet’s itinerary also includes a Primate Program designed by a primatologist to view rare primates in the Amazon, plus options for Iguassu Falls, Rio and more. See: https://www.wildplanetadventures.com/destinations/?country=brazil

3) Thailand’s Secret Wildlife Sanctuaries Bordering Myanmar Are Now Open to US Travelers – The secret is that Wild Planet Adventures is the only US operator bringing guests to Kaeng Krachan National Park and Klong Seang Wildlife Sanctuary, the two best national parks in Thailand for exotic wildlife encounters. Kaeng Krachan is the largest and least visited national park in Thailand, with the most volume of wildlife of any park in the region. Nestled up against the remote mountains at Myanmar’s border, safaris in Kaeng Krachan are done by 4WD Jeep and by foot, both day and night. The park is home to Tiger, Black Leopard, Wild Elephant, Asiatic Black Bear, Gibbon, Langur, Slow Loris, six species of Hornbill. Klong Seang is a wildlife sanctuary on the far northeast corner of a 185 sq. km. lake, where Cohen’s team brings guests by long-tail boat and kayak (for silent approach to the animals) from their base at a spectacular floating aqua-lodge. Klong Seang is known for its healthy populations of Guar and is home to the extremely rare Clouded Leopard as well as Wild Boar, Wild Elephant, Monitor Lizard. Most travelers combine these parks with a few days of culture and an elephant camp in Chiang Mai and end their trip with snorkeling on Thailand’s best islands. See: https://www.wildplanetadventures.com/destinations/?country=thailand&trip=hidden-thailand-14-day-eco-tour

4) Borneo –2014 May Have Been the Year We Saved the Most Human of All Primates – The demand for palm oil (in roughly 60 percent of all goods on today’s supermarket shelves) has brought to near extinction Borneo’s population of Orangutan, the “holy grail” for wildlife travelers.

What’s the secret? “In 2014 manufacturers responsible for producing nearly 60% of the world’s palm oil pledged to use responsible forest-friendly practices. This is a major breakthrough that will help preserve what’s left of the critically threatened habitat for endangered wild Orangutan populations.”

In Cohen’s experience, “There is not another animal alive more capable of creating the magical connection between traveler and wild animal than the Orangutan. It’s what wildlife lovers dream of. That’s not surprising, considering this great ape is one of humankind’s closest relatives, sharing 97% of our DNA. They are born with the ability to reason and think and considered to be one of the smartest mammals on Earth. Nevertheless, many travelers are completely unprepared for just how deeply touched they are by Orangutan displays of love, nurturing young, playfulness and courtship.”

The majority of visitors to Borneo only see Orangutan at rescue centers, but Wild Planet specializes in expeditions to see these great apes in the wild, as well as Borneo’s other exotic wildlife including the Proboscis Monkey, Bornean Gibbon, Pygmy Elephant, Tarsier and Slow Loris. Cohen adds that one of the world’s top five dive locations, the Sipadan reef in the Celebes Sea, is a must-see ending for any trip to Borneo. See: https://www.wildplanetadventures.com/destinations/?country=borneo&trip=weird-wonderful-wildlife-12-day-borneo

5) Zambia Is the Prime Destination for African Safaris Due to its Safety from Ebola – Demand for African safaris exploded in 2014 to an all-time high. However, the recent Ebola crises took wind out of the safari sails.

The secret: “While fewer people are traveling to Africa for safari because of the Ebola fear, Zambia is 100% clear of the crisis and located 5,300 km from the nearest Ebola outbreak (that’s like a New Yorker being afraid of measles in San Francisco); flights to Zambia do not stop in Ebola affected zones and Zambia was one of the first countries to ban travelers from affected areas in order to protect its safari economy,” says Cohen. “Zambia couldn’t be more safe.”

Zambia’s remoteness and multitude of eco-systems also offer significant advantages over more commercial safaris in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania or other Africa countries.  It’s the birthplace of the walking safari and home to Africa’s best canoe safari (on the Zambezi River at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mana Pools). Wild Planet offers a multitude of award-winning Zambia safari options including walking, canoeing and jeep safaris with legendary master guides. See: https://www.wildplanetadventures.com/destinations/?country=zambia

For tour itineraries and booking information, call 800-990-4376, visit www.wildplanetadventures.com or contact trips@wildplanetadventures.com.


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