The Zoo Northwest Florida
|Operated by||Gulf Coast Zoological Society|
Danyelle Lantz, director
|Location||5701 Gulf Breeze Parkway|
Gulf Breeze, FL 32563
|<googlemap lat="30.400714" lon="-86.983223" zoom="13" width="288" height="200">
30.40114, -86.984425, The ZOO Northwest Florida </googlemap>
The Zoo Northwest Florida (also called The Gulf Breeze Zoo or simply The Zoo) was an animal preserve that served the Pensacola area from 1984 to 2009. Located in the Midway area at 5701 Gulf Breeze Parkway, 10 miles east of Gulf Breeze and 19 miles west of Fort Walton, it hosted over 900 animals on more than 30 acres of preservation land. In addition to the animals themselves, the Zoo featured amenities such as the Safari Line Train, Jungle Café, Whistlestop Snack Bar, and a gift shop in the main building.
The Zoo was founded in 1984 by four businessmen, including Pat Quinn, who became its director. On September 1, 2004, weeks before being damaged by Hurricane Ivan, control was transferred to the non-profit Gulf Coast Zoological Society. After many years under the leadership of Doug Kemper, inurance executive Danyelle Lantz was named executive director in October 2007. The Zoo faced a number of problems in its later years, including extensive damage from Hurricane Ivan, dying animals and dwindling attendance.
After struggling to find a new source of funding, the Zoo closed its doors on August 16, 2009, with the stated intent to reopen should funding be provided. Three days later, however, the for-profit group that owned the Zoo's property announced that with "no long-term commitment from the community… we are officially, now, closing the zoo."
- Exhibits at time of closure, in order of a roughly clockwise progression through the Zoo.
- Gibbon Island and Lemur Island – The first exhibit to greet guests outside the gift shop, a pond with two islands inhabited by lemurs (including Omega) and gibbons (including Mai Lang).
- The Farm and Petting Zoo – Featuring an assortment of barnyard animals.
- Otters – Amphibious enclosure for otters Alex and Tsunami.
- Giraffes – Colby and Gabby are the two current giraffe inhabitants.
- Neo-Tropical Exhibit – At the southwest corner of the Zoo. Primates include mandrils (Ben and Ash)
- Perimeter enclosures – Nyala, gazelles, kudu, muntjac, ostriches, cranes, impala.
- Australian Outback – Kangaroos (including Calvin), emus, kookaburra, lorikeets and cockatoos.
- Cat Country – Includes African lions (Larry, Kit and Kat), Bengal tigers (Raja and Asia), leopard (Osiris) and cougar (Mexica).
- The 'Gator Hole – More than a dozen American alligators.
- Wild Florida – Includes Amercian black bears (Kirby and Paddington), coyote (Sasha), barn owl, opossum, barn owl, etc.
- Asian Rhino Enclosure – Currently unoccupied. Formerly home to Jafar (died 2007) and Limpopo.
- African Adventure – A wildlife preserve with large, open areas enclosed by water features. Three islands on a central pond are inhabited by gorillas (Babuka, Rwanda and Husani), chimpanzees (Zachary and Patrick) and colobi. Other animals include hippos (Kiboko and Cleo), zebras, wildebeest, kudu, elands, and African wild dogs (brothers Phoenix and Quatro).
- Dragon World – Kimodo Dragon (Ivan, not named for the storm)
- Orangutans – Kerijan, Sarah and Indah.
- Giant Snake Pavilion – Anaconda, boa constrictor, and several species of python.
Facilities & other features
- Lion's Lair Gift Shop – Zoo entrance, ticket sales and gift shop, plus administrative offices and guest relations. Enclosures held a variety of animals including snakes (One-Eyed Willy, Lucifer and One-Way), hedgehogs (Bubba, Hedge and Snowball) and a Leopard Gecko (Pepe).
- Karibu Restaurant and Serengeti Room – Filled with terrariums holding frogs, tarantulas, etc.
- Nairobi Snack Bar
- Wildlife Theater
- Boardwalk – Overlooked the African Adventure wildlife preserve and terminated near Chimp Island, with coin-operated telescopes for viewing the animals.
- Camellia Walk
- Japanese Garden
The Zoo operated in the red since its opening in 1984. It sustained massive damages in Hurricane Ivan, including a number of completely destroyed exhibits. Despite a $2.7 million policy, the Zoo's insurance company only paid $59,000 of more than $600,000 in damages.
Loss of accreditation
Though it remains a licensed zoo, its American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accreditation, granted in 1988, was revoked on March 29, 2006 after AZA inspectors deemed 38 Zoo practices "questionable" and 24 more "unacceptable."
In the first seven months of 2007, a total of 44 animals had died in the Zoo from various causes. In January, four kangroos died of bacteria-related illness within a three-day period. Two popular animals were found dead by zookeepers in July. Baby hippopotamus Niles died on July 7 from a punctured lung caused by her father, Kiboko. On July 17, 10-year-old giraffe Sammy died from "acute stress and increased body temperature" resulting from a neck injury, possibly incurred by one of the posts or cables that surround the giraffes' enclosure.The rhino died as well. The most recent death occured to the new giraffe Colby, who was on loan from Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa, FL, on Feb. 15th, just a week after his birthday.
Injuries and escaped animals
On November 13, 2006, a caged leopard bit a 19-year-old zookeeper (whose last name, coincidentally, was Leopard) who was "too close" to the cat, according to Kemper. Two cougars temporarily escaped from their pens on November 14, 2006 (one day after the leopard bite), requiring all 30 visitors to be moved to secure areas.
- Failure to treat flea and mite infestations.
- Taking blood from the Zoo's goats to feed vampire bats.
- Housing reptiles for months on end in a concrete building without sunlight.
High School Musical fundraiser scam
In June 2008, Zoo officials learned that a fundraiser they had planned for more than a year was a hoax. The event, planned for August 9, was intended to raise an estimated $150,000 to help the Zoo meet its operating costs for the rest of the year.
Executive director Danyelle Lantz said the Zoo was approached a year earlier by "someone posing as a representative" of High School Musical stars Zac Efron and Drew Seeley", saying he owned a production company affiliated with the Disney Channel and producing what appeared to be legitimate documents. The hoax was revealed only after Lantz attempted to confirm the date with official sources, who denied all knowledge of the zoo's fundraiser. "We're humiliated, and we're embarrassed, and we're hurt," said Lantz. "But more than that, we're concerned for [the hoax perpetrator]. We don't know at this point if it was malicious or if he's delusional."
After the revelation, the Zoo board's executive committee held an emergency conference call to discuss the impending financial shortfall that would have been ameliorated by the fundraiser. Some of the options discussed included closing outright, moving the zoo to a more densely populated area, reducing the hours or days of operation, and asking county governments for tourism-related funding. Zoo board member Lois Benson said of the hoax, "When you're on life support, you're very vulnerable to charlatans. This was one of those things you grasp at because it offered some promise. We're not done yet. ... The last thing we need is for The Zoo to close."
- "Zoo closed for good." Pensacola News Journal, August 19, 2009.
- "The Zoo could be closing." Pensacola News Journal, July 7, 2007.
- Trouble in the animal kingdom - Northwest Florida Daily News, August 13, 2006
- "Zoo woes take center stage." Pensacola News Journal, July 29, 2007.
- String of kangaroo deaths plagues zoo - Northwest Florida Daily News, January 17, 2007
- "Father's bite killed baby hippo." Pensacola News Journal, July 13, 2007.
- "Zoo loses Sammy the giraffe." Pensacola News Journal, July 19, 2007.
- Cougars escape pen at The Zoo - Northwest Florida Daily News, November 15, 2006
- Planned Zoo fundraiser victim of hoax
- "Duped by Disney?" WPMI NBC 15, July 2, 2008.
- "Zoo says cutbacks, closure may be imminent." Pensacola News Journal, July 3, 2008.
- "Zoo fundraiser a hoax." Pensacola News Journal, July 2, 2008.