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Enjoying the Wildlife of South Florida

August 21, 2009 By Doug in Miami: Travel News  | 4 Comments


Last week I wrote about hurricanes and the week before, it was pythons taking over the Everglades.  Needless, to say, some readers were spooked, so this week I thought I would take on a subject nearer and dearer to our collective hearts: the abundance of cute creatures that call South Florida home.

There are few places in the country that allow you to get so up close and personal with nature’s creatures as you can in our little corner of the world.

Where else can you watch a pack of raccoons in broad daylight raiding the garbage cans of your favorite neighborhood park?  In what other locale in the continental US can you spot a lizard of prehistoric proportions clinging to a tropical tree? Or iguanas, belly-flopping into a canal, while Jesus Christ lizards scamper for cover? How about wild monkeys swinging through the treetops, with a high-rise condo-scape just behind them? South Florida’s abundance of exotic wildlife makes it one of the most interesting places in this hemisphere for zoologists and herpetologists. 

The state, on many levels, is an untamed jungle paradise, and the ever-increasing encroachment by humans has brought these animal populations into our daily lives.

If you don’t have the time to catch the animals frolicking in their natural habitats, here are a few sure-fire places where you can enjoy them when your time is budgeted.



Owned by the Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation, Department, the sprawling, 740-acre Miami Metrozoo (12400 SW 152 St, Miami, FL 33177, 305-251-0400) features over 80 exhibits throughout its tropically-landscaped grounds.  With over 1200 animals and 48 endangered species, it will keep you busy.  Its 3 miles of walkways will lead you past notable collections such as the Wings of Asia aviary, with its 70 species of birds; Dr. Wilde’s World, which houses 10,000-15,000 honeybees;  and Amazon and Beyond, opened in late 2008, which contains 27 acres devoted to the flora and fauna of South America.  In the trees, be sure to look for the hundreds of orchids, cared for by Easter Airlines Orchid Society.

Admission at the time of this writing is $15.95 for adults (over 13) and $11.95 for children (3-12), and discounts are offered for groups of 10 and above.  You can save $1 per ticket off your admission by printing your tickets online through their website.  The grounds are open year round from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm and the gates close at 4 pm, so be sure to arrive early so you can enjoy the full experience.



Back in the 1950’s, Florida was a sea of kitsch, with roadside attractions catering to traveling families on summer vacations.  The advent of Disneyworld in the 1970s caused most of these mom and pop operations to falter and eventually close up shop, and they are presently an all-but-forgotten facet of life.

One of the few survivors is Monkey Jungle (14805 SW 216th St. Miami, FL 33170, 305-235-1611) a 30-acre park first established in 1933, “where the humans are caged and the monkeys run wild.”

Upon arrival, you’ll pass through a gift shop where you can purchase your hefty tickets ($29.99 for adults and $23.99 for children aged 3-9; children under 3 are free), and then unto mesh-covered walkways, where you can observe several species of simians swinging through the trees and doing what monkeys do in a semi-natural tropical rainforest setting.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of a visit to Monkey Jungle is that you can purchase peanut and dried-fruit treats for a nominal fee near the entrance, and place them in little hanging baskets located along the walkways.  The savvy monkeys will pull the baskets up to retrieve their contents and clang them for more when they’re done.  As you sit back and watch them interact with one another, you’ll realize that we humans are not so different in our ways.

Monkey Jungle was at the zenith of its years in the early 1990’s, until it was all-but destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 ; it has since made a rebound, but is a shadow of its former self, when it attracted enough low-lying clouds to call itself a real rainforest.  The animals make the trip, worthwhile, however.  Be sure to stick around for the gorilla show!

The park’s remote Southwest Miami location makes it a nice companion trip for the Metrozoo.  Like the zoo, Monkey Jungle is open from 9:30 to 5:30 pm daily, and the ticket office closes at 4 pm.



If you should find yourself further north in the Fort Lauderdale area, be sure to make time for the Bonnet House (900 North Birch Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304, 954-563-5393).  The 35-acre property, acquired in 1895 by Florida pioneer Hugh Taylor Birch, was given to his daughter Helen and her husband, Frederic Clay Bartlett, as a wedding gift in 1919.  More recently, it was donated by the family to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, where the house is now a museum.

The grounds are what make this place special, though.  Dazzling gardens and ponds graced with swans and frolicking turtles grab your attention, while wild monkeys scurry through the tree branches nearby. 

How the monkeys got there is a mystery.  Legend has it that they escaped from a traveling circus, and were attracted to the beautiful grounds.

In addition to monkeys, raccoons are also plentiful.  One even let me photograph him lounging around in one of the trees!


Admission for house and grounds is $20 for adults and $16 for children (under 12).  Grounds only tickets may be purchased for $10, and children under 6 are free.  The hours are 10 am - 4 pm Tuesday through Saturday, with last house tours at 3 pm.  On Sunday, Bonnet house opens from 12 pm until 4 pm.  Gates close each day at 3:30 pm.  Closed Mondays.


It’s no understatement to say that life in Florida is like having the cable channel Animal Planet in your backyard 24 hours a day.  While many would associate the exotic nature of Miami with the international travelers that abound here, the animal population in the Magic City is no less colorful.  In parks, gardens and even the most urban of settings, wild creatures thrive here like nowhere else.  In Miami, it really is a jungle out there!

Related Categories: Miami: Travel News,

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

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4 Comments on

"Enjoying the Wildlife of South Florida"

Sungal says:

Oh, what a fun article! I’d like to visit Monkey Jungle as well as Bonnet House, but I think it’s too far north for me to get to.
Cute picture of Mr. Racoon! I know you’re not supposed to, but did you feed any of the animals? I’m the kind of person who’d bring a banana to Monkey Jungle. Is the top photo a pigmy marmaset?
Is the Bonnet House decorated on the inside with furniture from the time period?

Posted on 08/22/2009 at 1:21 PM

Doug says:

No, Mr. Raccoon had already helped himself to an old piece of fruit and retired to the tree.  He just wondered why I was following him around for half an hour with my cellphone camera. 

Monkey Jungle will sell you food, as I mentioned above.  It’s very reasonable and comes in those gumball machines.  The monkey pictured at the top is a squirrel monkey, which I photographed at Bonnet House at feeding time.  I didn’t pay to go on the house tour at Bonnet House; I only did the grounds tour, so I’m not sure about the furniture.

Posted on 08/22/2009 at 1:48 PM

Aaron Poter says:

Hey, What a wonderful heritage!! I also decide to visit here. Please tell me where is the zoo. wink

Posted on 11/24/2010 at 11:44 AM

Doug says:

Hi Aaron, for directions to the zoo, just click on the link in the part of the article that mentions the zoo.  That will take you to the zoo’s website, which has directions, hours and other information.

Posted on 11/24/2010 at 11:51 AM

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