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A Who's Who of Zoos - Jungleland Zoo

Jungleland Zoo
4580 West Irlo Bronson Highway, Kissimmee 34746
(407) 396-1012

Admission: Adults $14.95, children (3 to 11) $9.95, seniors (55+) $12.95, all plus tax; AAA, AARP, and military discounts
Hours: Daily 9:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m.
Location: 6 miles east of I-4; 2 miles east of SR 535

The 120-foot plaster alligator outside might make you think this is a Gatorland clone but, while Jungleland has a first-rate gator show, it is primarily a small zoo specializing in “exotic” animals, including a number of big cats who have their own show.

Plan your visit around the schedule for the shows which begin at about 10:00 a.m. and end around 3:00 in the afternoon. The latest you can arrive and see all the shows is 2:00, but the schedules can vary, so call ahead. The Bushmasters Gator Show takes place three times every day. This 25-minute display is first-rate “edutainment” and well worth the price of admission. Jungleland compresses all its gator lore and trivia into this single show, whereas Gatorland spreads it out over your entire visit. Otherwise the shows are very similar, although I’d have to give the edge to Jungleland.

The show takes place in a 300-seat outdoor amphitheater with shaded seating areas. If you drop by early, you may be able to see the gator wrangler lasooing a likely looking co-star from the nearby gator pond. Once inside the arena, the wrangler puts the uncooperative gator through its paces, showing off its teeth and gaping maw. He also holds the gator’s jaws shut with his chin, the piece de resistance of every gator wrestling show.
This show offers a different version of the origin of gator wrestling from the one I heard at Gatorland, attributing the practice to the Seminole Indians who hunted gators in this fashion for their skin and meat. Hunters usually worked in pairs, with one getting on the gator’s back and clamping its jaws shut while his partner tied the jaws shut for the trip back to market. The trick of pulling back the gator’s head and holding its jaws with the chin was developed, according to this version, by lone hunters who didn’t want to share the sale price with a partner. By holding the jaws with their chin, they were able to free their hands to tie the gator’s jaws shut single-handed. All in all, the Jungleland version has the ring of truth to it.
Every bit as good as the gator show (better, if you’re a big cat fan) is the Cat Show, which takes place in a wooden arena toward the back of the zoo. Here a trainer shows off several tigers and a gorgeous puma, putting them through paces that are similar to a circus act, except that here the show biz razzle dazzle is replaced by fascinating facts about these magnificent creatures and a somber warning about their odds of surviving in the wild. The same trainer doubles as a magician in Magic of the Rainforest, which takes place in a small, dark theater near the food stand in the middle of the park. It’s fairly standard magic show fare, with a variety of birds, monkeys, and other forest critters appearing and disappearing in a succession of clever tricks, as the host cites ominous statistics about the world’s disappearing rainforests. In addition to the shows, there are three primate feedings each day.
Between the shows, stroll along the half-mile looping path through Jungleland’s zoo which houses some 300 specimens. You can get closer to the animals here than at most zoos, and Jungleland is far less concerned about your feeding the animals than many. In fact, there are 50-cent food dispensers dotted along the route just for that purpose. There are some lovely members of the big cat family here, ranging from African leopards and lions, to brother and sister Bengal tigers, to an older Siberian tiger. The North American cats — cougars, lynx, and bobcats — are also represented. There are some unusual felines, too, like the African caracal with its distinctive ears and the dog-sized serval, once the house cat of Egyptian royalty.
Primates are another well-represented family. My favorite is the orangutan, Radcliffe, the zoo’s only large primate. Radcliffe will respond to simple hand signals — waving your hand over your head, placing it on your forehead as if you have a headache, sneezing with your hand over your nose. He also seems to respond to the verbal command, “Smile.” Like any good actor, he performs more willingly if you bribe him with food.
Most people seem to spend about two and a half hours at Jungleland which is just long enough to see all the shows and visit the other animals. Don’t forget to take a family snapshot by the big gator outside before you leave. A helpful sign tells you the best place to stand.
Nearby: Kartworld, Medieval Times.

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