If it weren’t for a large and hostile display of lightning, Mr. B. and I would have seen the whole of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. As it was, we saw nearly all of it, but we missed Great Apes of the World and Wild Florida. We also did not get to ride on a little red choo-choo that chugs around the zoo’s perimeter.
We had just left the Asian Bamboo Garden when a storm that had started as a distant rumble let loose. It had started raining earlier, driving most visitors from the park, but we persisted. When the storm worsened, we joined a wet band of stragglers headed towards the front entrance. On our way, Mr. B. and I learned that our opinions on lightning diverged. I put being outdoors during a thunderstorm into a category called Dumb Things to Do with a subcategory of Foolishly Reckless. Also in this category are activities like putting children on the backs of alligators for the purpose of taking a picture and not turning off hand saws during a power failure.
Mr. B. is far less reactive, so as I slipped and skated ahead, he maintained a normal pace. He’d inadvertently detoured into the Great Apes exhibit and there we learned that apes are about as fond of lightning as I am. I skidded along the slick walkway and tried to help a kid who had fallen down in her haste to catch up to her mother.
Before the storm, we’d spent three hours exploring the zoo’s superbly categorized exhibits. We also divided on which creature was our favorite: Mr. B. loved the otters while I was unable to decide between timarans and a husky tapir that dozed in the heat. We agreed on the wood storks. These birds are not part of the regular collection but they have made the zoo their home since 1999. It is the most established colony of nesting wood storks in North Florida and it is something to see. The colony noisily roosts in the middle of the Plains of East Africa exhibit and a 1,400-foot boardwalk running beside the trees lets you enjoy the birds and their nests without needing binoculars or much of a camera zoom. They return each year during the breeding season and their numbers have increased steadily over the past decade.
A main walkway runs through the zoo and the separate exhibits are loops off the walkway. I was impressed with the placement of the concession kiosks and was happy to be able to buy a bottle of Gatorade while admiring a baby giraffe. I was also impressed by the “educators” at each exhibit, there to answer any questions you might have. They seemed genuinely glad to have the opportunity to speak to guests and they answered all questions pleasantly and informatively. I overheard one in the serpentarium calm the fears of an adult male who had asked her about “man-eating” snakes.
If I had any criticism at all, it was that the zoo makes no effort to notify visitors of a severe storm. It wasn’t until we got to the gate and asked for a refund of the train ticket that we officially learned we’d been tramping around during a severe weather event. Ever the realist, Mr. B. pointed out that there was likely no way to do this or to assist in evacuating the park during an episode of excessive cloud-to-ground lightning. In considering this, I take into account the frequency and degree of severity of afternoon storms and I allow for the distinction between a sun shower and a severe event. The park has two cafes, several restrooms, and indoor exhibits where one could take shelter if the need arose. The responsibility for personal safety in weather events is at the discretion of the guest. But who thinks of that while admiring an anaconda?
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens: *****
If you visit: Plan to spend at least half a day. With adequate sugary hydration, even the heat-resistant (me) had no trouble being outdoors for several hours. The indoor exhibits are air-conditioned and dark and have seating.
If it rains, you may purchase a neon-yellow, animal-printed poncho in the gift shops.
The rest of this week will feature my zoo photographs. Today we have Les Oiseaux, identified where possible:
SOUTHERN GROUND HORNBILL:
MR. B. MAKES FRIENDS WITH A COUPLE OF LORIKEETS: