Brevard Zoo Among America’s Best
By Keith Malone // June 3, 2012
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Brevard Zoo in Melbourne is one of the top zoos nationwide – recognized on the TripAdvisor Popularity Index of America’s Top 10 Zoos.
Coming in at No. 8 on the list, Brevard Zoo has been applauded for its natural habitats, including “Wild Florida” – where visitors can feed white-tailed deer and climb into kayaks for guided tours through acres of wetlands and their inhabitants.
Wide Range of Animal Species
Brevard Zoo was built by a community of nature enthusiasts as a sanctuary in the sun to showcase several natural habitats of Florida.
Community Support Brevard Zoo boasts “The World’s Largest Volunteer Community Build.”
More than 16,000 people of all ages joined forces to help build the Zoo in the spring of 1992. It celebrated its grand opening on March 26, 1994.
A TripAdvisor traveler noted: “This zoo is a perfect size for young children. I love the opportunity to get so close to the animals.”
Recently, the zoo contained 577 animals representing 165 species from North and South America, as well as from Australia and Africa.
They include a black jaguar named Onyx, a pair of lumbering Baird’s tapirs named Pee Wee and Josephine, the giant anteater Hoover – as well as a myriad of primates and birds.
The zoo is a non-profit institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It’s divided into four loops – Expedition Africa, Australia/Asia, Wild Florida and La Selva, all accessed off the Flamingo Pond.
It was conceived as a conservation hub where people could gather to learn about animals – a place to escape from the urban world and get closer to nature, to be reminded of the diversity of life in Florida and throughout the planet.
Frank Vega recruited community leaders and the dream started to take shape. Executives from the major aerospace companies formed teams to work on architectural designs as well as to provide the labor for the new Zoo. A. Duda and Sons donated the land – a prime location for the Zoo.
Tourist Council Loan
The next major show of support came from the county commissioners, who committed a revenue source from the Tourist Development Council, allowing the Zoo to obtain a much-needed loan.
The $2.5 million dollar loan would be paid back by 15% of the one-third penny collected as a hotel tax.
Another Zoo fundraising effort included the establishment of a Founder’s Society, in which 303 founding members helped the Zoo match a $500,000 grant from the State of Florida.
More money was raised through sales of t-shirts and thousands of Zoo memberships – all before the Zoo had even been built!
More than anything, these early fundraising successes illustrate the incredibly high level of community support Brevard Zoo has enjoyed from the very beginning.
This small band of dedicated people have now raised $3.5 million dollars and recruited more than 16,000 volunteers, making this the largest community Zoo build ever undertaken, anywhere.
Leathers, Inc., specialists in community builds, as well as animal habitat designers Basset and Wells rounded out the team, adding technical expertise to the effort.
With hammer and nails at the ready, the local community began construction, making their dream a reality. In March of 1994, Brevard Zoo opened its gates to the public.
Visitors delighted in the many surprises they encountered in the innovative “Paws On” interactive area – such as becoming a bee to waggling a way through a hive, exploring a cube of soil like an earth worm – or watching a film from the belly of a spouting whale were just a few of the wild possibilities.
Visitors can wander along the newly built boardwalk, exploring the thick native Florida forest.
The people of Brevard County continue to rally in support of the Zoo. With each new habitat built, community volunteers have generously donated their time and money.
The continued success of Brevard Zoo depends on financial contributions from many sources. Funding from private donors, grass roots education and conservation organizations, local, state and federal government – as well as continued support from the Tourist Development Council – are vital to the zoo’s future.
For more information log on to BrevardZoo.org
Admission is $14.50 for adults (ages 12 and up); $13.50 for seniors and $10.50 for children (ages two to 12); children under two get in for free.