|Date opened||September 1969|
|Location||Naples, Florida, USA|
|Land area||43 acres (17 ha)|
|No. of species||70|
The Naples Zoo (or more formally, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens) was opened in September 1969 in Naples, Florida, in what was once the gardens for botanist Dr. Henry Nehrling's collection of plants. The gardens were neglected after Nehrling's death, but reopened in 1954 by Julius Fleischmann. Animals were added by Larry and Jane Tetzlaff in 1969, and the gardens were reopened as a zoo attraction.
The zoo has about 70 species, though not all of these are on display at any given time. The main path is about a mile long, and winds past the main animal exhibits through a tropical garden first planted in 1919. Primates in the zoo are housed on islands in a man made lake, and can be viewed from catamarans when visitors take the Primate Expedition Cruise.
The Naples Zoo began as a personal project of botanist Dr. Henry Nehrling, who purchased the land in 1919 to protect his plant collection, which had taken heavy damage during a 1917 freeze at his original garden in central Florida. After his death in 1929, the gardens were neglected for over two decades. They were reopened in 1954, this time to the public and as "Caribbean Gardens," by Julius Fleischmann. At the time they were described as being "just north of Naples."
The conversion to a zoo started in 1967, when Col. Lawrence and Nancy Jane Tetzlaff, known as Jungle Larry and Safari Jane, visited the Gardens while looking for somewhere to house their collection of rare animals during the winter. Although the property was not available at the time, shortly after Fleischmann's death the Tetzlaffs were contacted about displaying their animals within the garden, and it was opened with the animals in place on September 1, 1969.
The zoo was accredited by the AZA in 2001. In 2002, the Fleischmann family that owned the land at the time and leased it to the zoo decided that they wanted to sell it. The Tetzlaff's began trying to get the county to purchase the land, and the Fleischmann family waited to allow the community to act. In 2004, a referendum to purchase the land was approved by 73% of voters. In order to make the purchase easier, the Tetzlaffs made the Zoo a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and gave control to the newly established Naples Zoo Board of Directors.
Although Larry Tetzlaff died in 1984, Nancy Jane Tetzlaff and her family continue to be active in maintaining and updating the zoo.
The Naples Zoo is laid out with one major loop about 1 mile long that winds through the botanical gardens past the main exhibits. The main exhibits, going clockwise around the main loop, include the following:
African Oasis is on the South side of the path opposite Alligator Bay. This area houses many African animals including crested porcupines, Dorcas gazelles, greater kudus, miniature zebu, impala, grey parrots, and leopard tortoises. The Giraffe Preview Exhibit showcases a herd of reticulated giraffes, where guests can hand-feed them for a fee.
Lake Victoria contains several islands that are home to the zoo's primates. Visitors can see these islands can be viewed up close by taking the 15 to 20 minute Primate Expedition Cruise around the lake on one of the zoo's catamarans. The majority of the species on these islands are endangered in the wild.
Lion's Lair is a large mesh fenced area that is home to the zoo's lions.
Black Bear Hammock is home to black bears, and consists of two separate habitats: one that simulates a natural environment and one that simulates a back yard. Viewing for both areas is from behind glass. It is the largest black bear exhibit east of the Mississippi River.
Backyard Habitat is a section of the gardens set aside and certified by the National Wildlife Federation in their Backyard Wildlife Habitat (BWH) program. It includes a pool where visitors can feed the fish.
Panther exhibit is home to Uno a Florida Panther (Puma councilor an endangered species of Cougar). The big cat was found after having been shot between the eyes at close range and left for dead. Meanwhile, he survived the ordeal by dining on road kill. After being nursed back to health he was brought to the zoo and put on exhibit in a reordering of what would be his nearby local mostly wild habitat (mostly wetlands).
Throughout the day, the zoo provides visitors with events that highlight the animals and conservation. These include the Planet Predator and Serpents: fang and Fiction shows at the Safari Canyon Open Air Theater, Botanical tours (on Sundays only), and Meet the Keeper sessions at various exhibits around the zoo.