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A guide to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

With the spring semester finally underway, students new to the area may be looking for fun things to do in Jacksonville. That’s where the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens comes in.

Started in 1914, the Jacksonville Zoo has been a staple of the city for over a century. The zoo’s expansive staff includes Curtis Dvorak, the Wildlife Wanderer.

“It’s the most biodiverse 120 acres on the First Coast,” said Curtis. “The gardens part of our zoo is world-class, and if you’re looking for a beautiful walk through nature while seeing some amazing animals to decompress from the stress of college, I would say it’s a great incentive to come on out and enjoy the zoo.”

Exhibits include elephants, giraffes, primates, tigers—with one expecting three babies—and other regional African, Australian and Floridian animals. Other activities include an aviary, stingray petting, several expansive gardens, a children’s park and a small movie theater.

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A female African lion at the Jacksonville Zoo. Lions can be found on the main path of the Africa loop. (Rachel Bacchus)

The zoo also has a famous Range of the Jaguars exhibit, which won the 2005 Association of Zoos and Aquariums Exhibit of the Year award.

“Right now, the top attraction is obviously Banks, the baby jaguar,” said Curtis. “He has been a top attraction for the last nine months.” The exhibit currently features six jaguars and several other animals, such as a giant anteater, giant otters, capybaras and American flamingos.

There are also many special events throughout the year, including the yearly Colors of the Wild light exhibit from November to February and the upcoming Wine & Pigments event on Feb. 8, where couples over 21 can enjoy painting, cocktails and jaguar sightings.

Colors of the Wild is an annual Asian lantern event taking place on select nights from November to January. (Rachel Bacchus)

Multiple educational resources are offered at the zoo, including programs for kids ages one through five, homeschool programs and programs for college graduates interested in a master’s degree in biology. Curtis said the program is less geared towards animal studies such as marine biology and more towards nature conservation and conservation justice.

Funding for the zoo also goes toward protecting wildlife. “A portion of proceeds from ticket sales and memberships goes directly to protecting animals and plants around the world. We support more than 45 plant and animal conservation programs, regionally and globally,” according to the website.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with several special events after hours.

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For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Rachel Bacchus
Rachel Bacchus, General Assignment Reporter
Rachel Bacchus is the current General Assignment Reporter at Spinnaker but also volunteers as a photographer. Rachel is a young photographer and writer working towards her Degree in Multimedia Journalism. She is primarily interested in sports photography and political journalism.

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