The Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens, branded and commonly known as Zoo Miami, formerly known as Miami MetroZoo, is the largest and oldest zoological garden in Florida, and the only tropical zoo in the United States. It is located on the old Richmond Naval Air Station site, southwest of Miami in southern Metropolitan Miami-Dade County, in the center of the census-designated places of Three Lakes (north), South Miami Heights (south), Palmetto Estates (east) and Richmond West (west). It houses over 2,000 animals on 740 acres (299 ha), 324 acres (131 ha) of which are developed. It is about 3 mi (5 km) around if walked on the path, and has over 100 exhibits. The zoo's communications director is wildlife expert and photographer Ron Magill. He frequently appears on local talk shows and news stations, often promoting the zoo's animals. The zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
The history of the zoo can be traced back to 1948, when 3 monkeys, a goat and 2 black bears were purchased for $270 from a small road show stranded near Miami. These 6 animals were the beginning of the Crandon Park Zoo on the island of Key Biscayne, just southeast off the coast from downtown Miami. The Crandon Park Zoo occupied 48 acres (19.4 ha) of the park. The first animals in the zoo, including some lions, an elephant and a rhinoceros, had been stranded when a circus went out of business in Miami. Some Galapagos tortoises, monkeys and pheasants were added from the Matheson Plantation. By 1967 the Crandon Park Zoo had grown to over 1,200 animals, and was considered one of the top 25 zoos in the country. Other animals were added, including a white Bengal tiger in 1968.
In 1965, Hurricane Betsy devastated the zoo and caused the death of 250 animals. After the hurricane there was talk of a new zoo for Dade county, but nothing was done until 11 December 1970, when Dade County officials applied for 600 acres (243 ha) of land in the Richmond Naval Air Station property. Construction began in 1975. The zoo opened in 1980 as Miami MetroZoo with a preview section of 12 exhibits and Asia, the first major exhibit, opened on 12 December 1981. A total of 38 exhibits, covering 200 acres (81 ha), were open to the public at this time.
Exhibits and animals
There are four main exhibit sections in the zoo; Asia, Africa, Amazon and Beyond and Australia. Pelican Cove, a large pond fed by a waterfall, contains various types of pelicans and waterfowl and lies adjacent to the ticket booths and Island Trader, the zoo's gift shop. Dr. Wilde's World is an indoor, seasonal, interactive exhibit that resides at the junction of the zoo's main pathways. The property includes a large lake, called Lake Iguana. An air-conditioned monorail that loops around the zoo's premises, provides both an aerial view of the zoo and a convenient way to move between sections. The monorail has four stations; the first is in-between Asia and Australia, the second is located in the former, and the final two are in Africa.