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Zoo Two

Story and photos by Kathleen Walls

American Roads Travel Magazine

Life is a cycle that ebbs and flows. Birth and death are just a part of that inevitable cycle.  I was reminded of that cycle recently after visiting two zoos that will be featured in my Wild About Florida: North Florida.

They are very different zoos. One located in a large metropolitan area but situated far from the inner city: the other in a smaller city yet right in the midst of the new growth. Yet once you step within the gates, you are in similar worlds. A world where wildlife is revered and protected. At both zoos, their residents are loved and cherished. They are family. Nothing is more devastating than losing a member of your family: nothing more satisfying then welcoming a new baby into that family.

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One of Jacksonville Zoo's adult jaguars (Credit Martin Walls)

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Jacksonville and Zoo World Zoological and Botanical Park in Panama City Beach have both experienced the turning of that never ending cycle of life and death. To Jacksonville Zoo, the cycle has given a beautiful new jaguar cub. From Zoo World, the cycle has taken a beloved orangutan.

Tucked away on the north side of Jacksonville, Florida snuggled up against the Trout River is one of the city’s hidden jewels, The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. The zoo sprang from modest beginnings. It grew along with the city to become the exquisite 89-acre jewel it is today. It all began on May 12, 1914 with one red deer fawn at its first location in the Springfield section. That was soon followed by a monkey island and other animals and rapidly grew until in 1925, it moved to its present location. One of the most significant acquisitions of that early zoo was a black jaguar they named Zorro. Zorro produced many offspring during his 19-year life span. These were sent to zoos all around the country and in 2003, a survey showed that all of the captive born black jaguars in North American zoos were a descendant of Zorro.

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The new baby! (credit Sara Kampman@Jacksonville zoo)

New Years day 2009 was a very special day at the zoo. Their four and a half year old  female jaguar named Zassi gave birth to a very special cub.

Delfi Messinger, Director of Animal Programs at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, explained, "This not only means a lot to the Zoo, but to me personally. In January 2006, I traveled with the Senior Veterinarian from our Zoo to Georgetown, South America, where jaguars Zassi and sister Zenta were being held for us. The two were captured as cubs and raised by humans, but they had become too big and dangerous for private ownership. Because they were ineligible for release into the wild, the government chose to loan the two jaguars to our Zoo. Now, to have Zassi give birth here at our Zoo is remarkable. This cub is a symbol of what conservation is all about as it will strengthen our ongoing projects in Guyana."

Today, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has the largest collection of jaguars in the nation. With the new baby, it now totals eight! All are located in the twice national award-winning Range of the Jaguar.

My best wishes for the new cub. May he spend many happy years being admired and cared for at the Jacksonville zoo and Gardens!

Even in the midst of tourist trap heaven,
I found a few treasures far more exciting than tee-shirt shops. Zoo World Zoological and Botanical Park is one such find. It’s small but then so are diamonds. There motto is “Where fun is never endangered” and they live up to it well. Along with a good variety of wild animals, they have a cute petting farm, and several shows, Parrots in Paradise, Going Wild and Wolf Encounter.

The zoo houses over 200 animals yet you get the feeling each of them is special to the keepers. The animals here are
identified by name—their given name not just species—on plaques at their exhibits. Personal information about that particular animal such as birth date and sex is usually provided as well as species information.   For instance when I viewed the Sumatran tigers, I saw that they were two males named Harimau, born January 28, 1994, and Tigger, born October 27, 1997. Even the tiniest creatures are important. The zoo has a small nursery and hospital presided over by Doctor Margaret Fowler. The day I visited, there was a tiny black bear cub in residence. Busa, who was born January 4, 2009 at Zoo World to Sissy and Eddy, is being hand raised since Sissy did not produce enough milk. Through the glass window, I could see the little cub sleeping; curled around a stuffed Mickey Mouse almost as big as he was. A pink stuffed toy lay near by. Many human children are not treated as well.

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Tonda and T.K.(credit Zoo World)

The most moving story about Zoo World concerns one of its residents who is no longer there. Tondaleyo, nicknamed Tonda, 50, was one of the oldest orangutan in the United States. When I spotted a large yellow tabby cat sharing the island with this aged orangutan, I was intrigued. Stephanie Willard, Zoo World’s Director of Education, told me the story. “Tonda lost her life mate a couple of years ago.  Since her loss, much like any human would react; she lost her zeal for life.  She would spend her days lying on her island home with her head down and covered with her security blanket. The keeper staff tried to keep her entertained by providing her with a variety of toys which she would lose interest in quickly if she paid attention to them at all. Because Tonda is beyond child bearing age, it has been impossible to find a mate for her. After an extensive search for a new companion to no avail and her condition was not getting any better.  Tonda’s keepers had to come up with some way to elevate Tonda’s zest for life. Enter T. K., Tonda’s kitty, the cat you saw.  T.K. has the sweetest personality and the keepers quickly realized he would be compatible with Tonda.  As the introduction process began, Tonda’s attitude  completely changed.  She is now alert and active; there is a new light in her eyes. A match made in Heaven, Tonda has found a new reason for living and T. K. is getting all the attention he loves and richly deserves.   Tonda and T. K. now spend all their sleeping and waking time together.”

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Tondaley~ long may her memory remain
(Credit Zoo World)

I was saddened to learn Tonda died on March 23, 2009, just a few days after I visited Zoo World, but feel I was privileged to witness such a beautiful friendship.

T.K is devastated by the loss of his adopted mother According to Zoo World employee, Jack Searles, "He hid under the desk for the first day or so, and then later, he was walking around a bit, kind of not wanting to get too close to anybody. You could tell he seemed upset. They put him with Tonda when he wasn't even a year old. He's been with her practically his entire life."

T.K. will remain in the Zoo World family and will continue to visit the zoo.

My sympathy for your loss . May Tonda be remembered for many years to come by all those who were privileged to meet her.

If you enjoy this article, you will also enjoy Wild About Florida: South Florida and our soon to be released books, Wild About Florida: Central Florida and Wild About Florida: North Florida this is just the type of information you will find in it and the entire series of the Wild About Florida books

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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