When you think about recreation at the shore typically what comes to mind first is the amusement rides and beach play. However, the New Jersey shore has so much more to offer than its boardwalks and beaches. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy a host of inland activities including the family friendly Cape May Zoo. The Cape May Zoo has an astounding 550 animals from more than 250 species taking up residence on its land.
History of the Cape May Zoo
Located in the heart of Cape May Courthouse, the zoo opened its doors in the late 1970s. When the zoo first opened it was home to about 70 animals including an African lion, some spider monkeys, a few barnyard animals and some animals native to the state. In the 1980s more displays were added and more exotic animals including antelope, primates, bison and black bears. In the later part of the decade a bengal tiger exhibit was added along with exhibits for cougars, camels, giraffes and reptiles.
In 1998 a fire destroyed the original reptile house which was subsequently rebuilt along with a walk-thru aviary. In 2010 the park cut the ribbon on a new Bald Eagle Habitat. The original enclosure, Eagle Creek, was damaged by the heavy snowfall from recent winters. The zoo is also home to some semi-famous residents; in 2007 13 flamingos were donated to the zoo from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
Visiting the Cape May Zoo
Located on Route 9 North, the Cape May Zoo and the adjoining Cape May Central Park cover roughly 220 acres of land of which 85 are designated for zoo use. The zoo is a non- profit corporation and admission to the zoo is free year round. That being said, the zoo is run on donations by volunteers, so donations at the zoo entrance are encouraged. Open everyday except Christmas, summer hours run between 10:00 am and 3:45 pm. During the winter the zoo is open between 10:00 am and 4:45 pm.
The zoo is divided into three primary sections the African Savanna, reptile house and free- flight aviary. The sections are connected with sidewalks and raised boardwalks. Covered pavilions, along with refreshment stands and restrooms are located around the zoo and park. The zoo also has a Wildlife Carousel with lions and tigers and an animal theme train called the Hummingbird express where visitors can hop on board and take a ride. Rides one token each and tokens can be purchased for $2 a piece or three for $5.
The African Savanna
The African Savanna is located outdoors in a relaxed natural setting. The animals have large enclosures to roam freely and enjoy the fresh air. Outside you will see a variety of birds roaming freely including ducks, geese and peacocks. You will also see bears, lions, tigers, zebras, buffalo and giraffes. In May 2010, the zoo welcomed Sabu and Kabu, two baby snow leopard cubs born to existing zoo residents Himani and Vijay. Many of these animals have spent the majority of their life at the zoo. Some are also donated, or rescued.
The Reptile and Amphibian House
Adjacent to the entrance to the Reptile and Amphibian House is an outdoor alligator enclosure where if you look closely you can spot one of these camouflaged creatures. The inside of the building is home to some of the rarest and most dangerous species on the planet. Long term residents would include giant turtles and a king cobra. The zoo also gets visiting animals to display including a rare albino alligator, one of only 50 in the world.
Stepping into the free-flight aviary at the Cape May Zoo is like stepping into another world. The sound of water flowing saturates the sense and the damp humidity fills the air. Most notably, tropical birds take flight just above your head and flamingos roam free.
The Cape May Zoo is ideal for visiting with children as it is rich with educational opportunities. It also has plenty of hands-on experiences for them to enjoy along with plenty of learning opportunities. The picnic areas are adjacent to a park with playground equipment, so you can both feed and entertain your children during meal time without spending a dime.