“Where are the elephants?” “Which way to the penguins?” “How do I get to the tigers?”
We hear these questions a lot, and if you’re a regular at our Zoo, you know the answer: they’re not here! But why is that? There are two reasons.
Firstly, our goal has never been to build a menagerie of animals for your amusement. Instead, we aim to inspire a passion for wildlife conservation by providing a meaningful, relevant experience in a naturalistic setting. We go to great lengths to model animal wellness by meeting and exceeding our residents’ physical and psychological needs through excellent husbandry, veterinary care, nutrition and habitat design.
We’re confident in our ability to provide those things to the 195 species currently in our care, but haphazardly adding “charismatic megafauna” (a fancy word for large, popular animals like apes, big cats and bears) to the Zoo would stretch us thin. Elephants, for example, require tremendous amounts of space, food (adults eat up to 600 pounds in a single day), training and enrichment; their own keeper team; and specialized veterinary attention—things we simply cannot provide right now.
Secondly, most “big-city” zoos that house a laundry list of charismatic megafauna are well over 50 years old, and they’ve had decades of significant financial assistance from local taxpayers to build facilities and hire staff. Brevard Zoo opened in 1994 as the result of a groundswell of community support, but we’re entirely reliant on earned income (think general admission, special events and attractions like Treetop Trek) and philanthropic contributions to cover operational expenses, such as animal care.
That doesn’t mean you won’t see more charismatic megafauna here in the future. As the Zoo grows, careful planning will enable the construction of new habitats, and we’ll be able to bring on additional animal care staff to provide these would-be residents with the level of care they deserve. You’ve already heard lions are coming in the next few years, and it’s quite possible that penguins and tigers could arrive in the next decade or two (although elephants are probably out of the question for us).
Still, we think we have plenty of engaging animal experiences. In addition to surefire crowd-pleasers like giraffe, rhinos and jaguars, many guests are surprised to find themselves delighted by the playfulness of the spider monkeys, fascinated by the flamingos’ unusual feeding techniques, entranced by the beauty of our venomous snakes and invigorated by the simple joy of getting splashed by a stingray.
After all, it’s about quality, not quantity.