• Alex Gerlach

A Pedacito Of Cape May County Zoo

Updated: Jun 19

Just beyond the entrance to the Cape May County Zoo and hidden from sight, the calls of peacocks fill the air. The smell of straw and farm animals wafts through the zoo opening.


The friendly staff eagerly await us at the main gate and give us a warm welcome as we pass through. Suddenly, flashbacks and memories of visits to the zoo from my childhood flip through my mind like a slideshow.

Flamingo at Cape May County Zoo
Flamingo at Cape May County Zoo

The Cape May County Park & Zoo is a donation-based Zoo run by the County of Cape May. The passionate Zookeepers are dedicated to providing the animals with proper care and conservation. Some are members of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, a non-profit volunteer group of professional zookeepers.


Admission to the zoo is entirely free and they operate off of donations and fundraising events. In fact, many of the habitats and other structures throughout the park are donated.


The zoo is partnered with a number of conservation efforts, such as the Laramie Foothills Bison Restoration Program, Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, Croc Encounters, Marginated Turtle, and others. Many of the animals in the zoo are rescued and considered non-releasable, or incapable of being released back into their natural habitat. So, they will be well-cared for by the keepers in captivity until the end of their lives.

When visiting the zoo, the experience is very immersive. There is so much interaction with the animals and they are, for the most part, very friendly. Once you pass through the entrance, there are farm animals, including goats and pigs, you can feed. The peacocks roam freely around the paved pathways, unconcerned with the visitors as they weave through. During my visit, we were lucky enough that one opened his train.




In this first part of Cape May County Zoo, you can also find various other bird species such as the Bald Eagle, multiple types of parrots, and flamingos. They have even more located inside the World of Birds, an indoor bird sanctuary in the center of the bird habitats. Inside is musty, humid, and smelly with lots of tropical foliage, high ceilings, and even a waterfall. Some of the birds were flightless while others would nearly miss you flying by.


The zoo itself is very easy to navigate and kind of guides you through the various sections. Just behind the World of Birds is a boardwalk that takes you past habitats with camelids like camels, llamas, and alpacas. This is also where they have their small herd of bison.


The end of the boardwalk brings you past a few more habitats before you reach Savanna Gardens, a small area with food and picnic tables. But what you really want to know is that this is also where the entrance to the African Savanna.


Another boardwalk takes you to the African Savanna through an area of woods. On the other side, you open up to a collection of habitats for a red panda, leopard, and owls that were saved from euthanization. While I only caught a glimpse of the red panda's ears while he slept, the leopard was very sociable and friendly.




While we entertained the leopard, my mom noted how excited it was to see us. And we realized that this leopard is just one of millions of animals around the world living in captivity that was affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Because the zoos were forced to close, challenges like loss of income impact the animals' access to proper care. Many of these animals also lost the socialization of their caretakers and visitors they are used to.


Zoos and aquariums often get bad reputations and many argue they are inhumane institutions. However, establishments, like Cape May Zoo, are focused on conservation efforts and house animals that would not survive in the wild otherwise. Years of reform have made zoos and aquariums safe places for animals and equally amazing educational resources for people.

The main part of the African Savanna is a large, open flatland that is home to a number of species, including giraffes, zebra, ostrich, and other animals from a family called bovidae. The giraffes are probably the most popular part of this exhibit and crowds lined the boardwalk to catch a glimpse while they ate the surrounding foliage. Unfortunately, they didn't get very close to us.


After exploring the African Savanna habitats, we made our way to the Reptile and Amphibian house to get in our dose of snakes, lizards, and, of course, Poison Dart Frogs. We passed the Aldara and Galapagos tortoises before entering the dimly lit building filled with tanks.


After exploring most of the habitats and working up quite the appetite, it was time to find dinner. We made our way back to the zoo's main entrance, passing some habitats along the way.


Like the leopard, another animal was quite happy to see the visitors returning. Swimming around his pool was a little otter, who, when I squatted in front of the glass, came up to see me off.

 

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