Palm Beach Zoo has Florida panther, jaguar

By Liz Doup
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted July 5 2007

Tigers, bears and a 3-inch cockroach.

Oh, my!

They’re all at the Palm Beach Zoo along with an assortment of animals, big and small, wild and wooly.

While walking on the wild side, you’ll stroll past a rare Florida panther, frolicking otters, red kangaroos and a whole lot more.

But before you go, check out these 10 fascinating facts about the zoo.

The newest guy on the block is Mardi, a rare white alligator, on exhibit through the end of September. Mardi, found in the New Orleans swampland and named after the Mardi Gras celebration, isn’t albino. His eyes are blue, not red. A mutation creates his color.

Taco, a green-cheeked Amazon parrot, has called the zoo home longer than any other animal. He arrived in 1981, a year after his birth. But the old-timer award goes to Noto, an Aldabra tortoise. He’s 48 years old and a zoo resident for almost 20 years.

At the Tropics of the Americas, you’ll see bush dogs, monkeys, jaguars and on and on. But don’t miss the bats in the observatory. Wonderfully creepy! The roaches are there, too, as if you don’t see enough of them already. Cockroaches at the zoo — Blaberus craniifer, to get scientific — reach about 2 inches. The giant cockroach can reach lengths of 2 to 3 inches and is about 1 inch wide.

Say hello to Tony, Bob and Bruce. No, they aren’t on the zoo staff. They’re African Pygmy goats you can pet and feed. Also part of the petting zoo: miniature horses and Nubian goats.

It’s not easy imitating Mother Nature. To create a diet that mimics what anteaters consume in the wild, the staff creates a thick “soup” of blended, soaked diet pellets, fruits and juices. The resulting “gruel” mixture is light brown. Yucky to those mixing it up. Yummy to the anteater.

It’s not all about animals. Inside the zoo grounds sits a replica of a Florida pioneer home. Along with old-time tools and dishes is a picture of Paul Dreher, the zoo’s namesake. A horticulturist, he convinced the city of West Palm Beach to buy 108 acres of what was then called Bacon Park from the state in 1951. Today the zoo encompasses 23 acres of the 108 acres now known as Dreher Park.

No need to swelter in summer heat. The zoo’s tree canopy helps shield you from the scorching sun. Thank Paul Dreher for that, too. After the city bought the land, he moved his nursery there. Some of the mature trees shading you today were part of his botanical garden.

Some animals are donated; others arrive through cooperative breeding programs or are on loan from zoos. The most creative acquisition occurred in 1965 when the zoo bought an elephant with thousands of Top Value stamps collected by local residents. As a nod to the method of purchase, the elephant, now long departed, was named Toppie.

Peacocks have roamed the zoo for years, showing off their fantastic feathers. Maybe that’s why peacock feathers rated as last year’s most popular souvenir. But don’t think the zoo’s peacocks are plucked for your pleasure. The zoo buys the feathers from a feather distributor.

After finishing your trek, cool off on the carousel, where you can ride a manatee, a reindeer or a host of other animals. Or hit the interactive fountain. Its 325 water jets can shoot refreshing streams of water more than 50 feet. Even cooler, the fountains can be synchronized to music.

Liz Doup can be reached at ldoup@ sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4222.

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