How Zoo Horticulture Works

by Danielle L. Green, Naples Zoo Director of Gardens and Grounds

Zoo horticulture is a unique blend of specialties that work with plants but often include skills in arboriculture.

A “zoo arborist” shares many skills and tree care goals with a municipal arborist but perform under a unique set of circumstances not often encountered in a municipal setting.

The life of a tree in the zoo environment can be tough. Thankfully, many tools and techniques exist that can improve soil and maintain proper tree health. At Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens in Naples, Florida, we have a unique combination of historical and tropical specimens that tell a story about the property as well as create a lush and beautiful backdrop for the animals and exhibits.

Many of our specimen trees date back to the early 1900s, planted by Dr. Henry Nehrling, and require specialized care regimens. Our climate allows for many tropical and subtropical species that serve many functions: beauty, shade for animals and guests, food for the animals to browse, perching sites for birds, scratching posts for tigers, and “furniture” that encourages animals to explore and be active in their exhibit habitat.

Managing the tree canopy in a zoo environment requires organization and consistent monitoring. Safety of the animal collection and the zoo guests is always a priority.

Frequent inspections and documentation serve to ensure specimens are healthy and concerns are addressed promptly. Access to many specimens can be difficult because of adjacent structures such as restrooms, playgrounds, food areas, or animal exhibits…or animals decide they do not want to shift inside holding areas!

Coconut removal over the alligator exhibit is always an adventure! Tree work such as pruning or root therapy requires specific planning and good communication amongst all departments. Most tree care activities impact the guest experience and sometimes require moving of animals to facilitate work.

Protecting trees from animals browsing, climbing, or scratching within an exhibit is a challenge for the zoo arborist different from that of a municipal or residential arborist. Many creative solutions exist such as using boulders or other objects to distance animals for the trees, flashing materials installed along the trunk, or managing the tree size inside the exhibit to contain animals if they do interact with the trees.

Signage and interpretation of the tree work being performed can serve to educate zoo guests and even staff on proper pruning, plant healthcare techniques, and pest and disease control

.Signage also educates zoo guests about how some trees species provide browse for the animals. In many cases, pruning debris is offered to animals like giraffe as part of their daily enrichment or a limb removal becomes a perch for a bird in the collection. Each species offered to animals must be approved by the veterinarian staff.

Soil compaction is a common issue in the zoo environment. Many tree specimens are located between exhibits, adjacent to public pathways and facilities, and within event spaces. This means they are subject to constant foot traffic from guests, staff, zoo animals, and construction activities that compact the soil.

Employing technology and systems developed for the arbor industry such as air-powered excavators and pressurized injection systems are used at the zoo to reverse soil compaction issues and get fertilization to the root system. This is extremely important in exhibits with large animals such as elephant and rhino as they compact soil easily.

Maintaining a healthy urban forest in a zoo is an essential part of caring for wildlife, educating guests, and offering a beautiful garden to visit.

Sanctuary and Healing for Animals and Visitors Alike

by Deanna Deppen, Executive Director
Shy Wolf Sanctuary Education and Experience Center

Shy Wolf Sanctuary has rescued and provided sanctuary to 1,260 captive-bred exotic animals ranging from wolfdogs to gopher  tortoises, foxes, and more. While rescue is a significant part of the organization’s mission, so is education. Founder Nancy Smith felt so strongly about education and conservation that she chose to add the Education and Experience Center to its name when  incorporating it in 2001.

In 1993, sanctuary co-founders Nancy and Kent Smith welcomed a three-legged leopard named Moondance. Four wolf pups followed in 1994. Because they were exotic animals that had been born into captivity, they would not be accepted by
government animal services, wildlife rehabilitators, or zoos. They would have been euthanized.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary fills a unique void by rescuing these captive-bred exotic animals that have often endured neglect, abuse, and abandonment. While people are attracted to the animal’s unique looks, they are rarely prepared to meet their pet’s dietary, containment, or enrichment needs. Every single day, the organization gets calls, emails, and social  media outreach from people reporting animals in need.

Through a network of volunteers, Shy Wolf helps to rescue and rehome when possible. However, many of the animals require ongoing medical care and more secure enclosures, so the organization offers a safe and loving place to live out their lives.

Part of what makes Shy Wolf Sanctuary so special is that healing happens on many levels for both the resident animals and the human visitors. Volunteers have always found solace and referred to Shy Wolf as their sanctuary as well. Psychiatrists have long  referred clients, recognizing that the animal encounters had the power to help people overcome a variety of emotional

In 2017, Shy Wolf Sanctuary began offering its Healing Hearts program to support foster and at-risk kids at The Children’s
Network of Southwest Florida, Youth Haven, and The Shelter for Abused Women & Children. Most recently, Shy Wolf
began offering Veteran support services in partnership with the Southwest Florida Chapter of Home Base.

During the Healing Hearts Program, participants meet the Sanctuary’s rescued resident animals. Guests are taken through an animal encounter that becomes a therapeutic setting, where they open up to experience forgiveness, courage, and unconditional love. Hearing the animal stories and seeing how they have healed  creates a bridge for participants to begin recovery.

While the organization’s current size and location limit the on-campus programs, Shy Wolf is moving forward with plans to expand on a 17 acre parcel of land on Golden Gate Boulevard. With a larger campus, the sanctuary plans to welcome additional animals in need and expand its educational and therapeutic animal  encounters.

For more information about how you can help Shy Wolf Sanctuary grow, contact Deanna Deppen or visit

Meet Eko- Naples Zoo’s Newest Resident

by Kelsey Burr, Naples Zoo Digital Marketing Manager

A new resident recently moved into Naples Zoo. Guests can now see Eko (pronounced Echo), a Malayan tiger who came to us from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

Malayan tigers are critically endangered, with less than 200 mature individuals in the wild according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The tigers are native to the forests and mangrove swamps in Malaysia and face threats such as habitat loss, poaching for their bones and skin, depletion of their prey, and tiger-human conflict.

Naples Zoo has funded saving wild tigers for over two decades. Today, Naples Zoo and other accredited zoos join forces through the Tiger Conservation Campaign to support Wildlife Conservation Society’s on-the-ground efforts to address the threats to this majestic, iconic cat. We work with the organization to both educate Asian consumers on the false medical claims promised from tiger parts, and fund field teams to combat poaching and remove snares.

“Naples Zoo has provided critical support to stop the poaching that threatens these magnificent wild cats. Efforts like these, along with the work zoos do to raise awareness and engage people in conservation action, are helping secure a better future for wild tigers,” Dr. Tara Harris, Coordinator of AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan® and Tiger Conservation Campaign, said. We also help with tiger conservation closer to home.

We participate in the Malayan Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP) to maintain a genetically diverse population in zoos. While we will not be the home to cubs, as we don’t have the appropriate space, we fill the SSP’s need of caring for young adult cats.

If the SSP selects Eko for a breeding recommendation, we will take him to another accredited zoo, as we’ve done with tigers in the past. We are honored to play this role.

Eko is a great ambassador for his species. When guests see him, we hope they fall in love and want to learn how they can do their part to save his cousins in the wild.

One way we can all help is by choosing products made with sustainable palm oil. Palm oil is the most widely produced edible vegetable oil in the world. It’s found in food like cookies, potato chips, and bread as well as shampoo, lotion, laundry soap and more.

Unfortunately, some companies clear cut forests to produce palm oil – leading to the deaths of tigers and orangutans.

Thankfully, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo created an easy app to help shoppers identify products with sustainably grown palm oil. Download the app





  • A tiger’s stripes are like our fingerprints – no two patterns are the same.
  • Tigers can run in short bursts up to 40 mph.
  • Tigers are great swimmers (if you’re lucky, you may catch Eko enjoying time in his pool!).
  • A tiger’s night vision is six times better than ours.
  • Tigers are solitary animals that enjoy living alone, like most cats, and will mark an area as their own by spraying strong smelling scents, scratching trees, and leaving piles of scat.
  • Tigers are the largest of all the cat species.

Joanna Fitzgerald – Director of von Arx Wildlife Hospital tells us…

Most animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at Conservancy of Southwest Florida suffer from injuries or illnesses caused by humans. We put together a list of things to do – or not do – to help prevent injury to wildlife.

1. Prevent your pet cats and dogs from attacking and/or playing with wildlife. Don’t allow dogs to run without supervision and raise cats indoors. Many injured animals are brought to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital with fatal wounds from dog or cat attacks.
2. Educate children to respect all wild creatures and their habitats. Wild animals are not playthings. Children should not throw rocks at wildlife or disturb them if they are resting on the beach or roosting in trees.
3. Pick up litter that could harm wildlife, including six-pack rings, plastic bags, fishing tackle, and old pieces of carpet or netting.
4. Do not trap or in any other way cause harm to wildlife.
5. Leave infant wildlife alone. They are seldom truly orphans. A parent may be nearby foraging for food or will return at dusk. If you find young birds on the ground, attempt to return them to their nest. If they’re learning to fly, place them in a tree for safety if pets are nearby.
6. Be alert when driving, especially in rural areas, to avoid hitting wildlife. Please stop when possible and move turtles from the roadway or shoulder. Always move them in the direction they were heading.
7. Check trees before trimming or cutting them down to make sure there are no active nests. If dead trees pose no hazard, leave them standing. They provide homes for a variety of wildlife, such as woodpeckers, owls, and squirrels. Try to avoid trimming trees during  the spring and summer nesting seasons.
8. Use non-toxic products on your lawn and garden when fertilizing.
9. Plant native trees and shrubs to provide homes and food sources for wildlife. Many migrating species are attracted to areas with native vegetation.                                                  10. Do not attempt to raise or keep wildlife as pets. Not only is it illegal, but wild animals do not make good pets and captivity poses a constant stress to them. Young wild animals raised without contact with their own species fail to develop survival skills and fear of humans, virtually eliminating their chances of surviving in the wild.
11. Alert birds to large expanses of glass in your home by hanging reflective streamers nearby. Reducing the reflection should cut down on the number of birds who collide, often fatally, with doors and windows.
12. Do not leave fishing line or fish hooks unattended and retrieve any kite string left on the ground or entangled in trees.
13. Look before mowing your lawn. Walk through the area to make sure no rabbits or ground nesting birds are in harm’s way.
14. Do not feed wildlife. Feeding encourages animals to become dependent on handouts, lose their fear of humans, and to congregate in unnaturally large groups, increasing the chances of disease transmission.

Providing medical care to injured native wildlife has been a priority of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida since 1979. This year, the von Arx Wildlife Hospital admitted more than 3,700 patients including small mammals, reptiles and birds. The wildlife hospital is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

If you find injured or orphaned native wildlife, contact the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at Conservancy of Southwest Florida at 239-262-CARE (2273)

Meet Naples Zoo’s Adorable New Additions

If you’ve visited Naples Zoo lately, you may have noticed two new adorable faces in the bongo and gazelle yards. A male Eastern bongo calf was born December 30, 2019 to parents Amara and Sebastian, and a male slender-horned gazelle was born January  22 , 2020 to parents Clyde and Clover.

The gazelle calf is named Colby-Jack, a special name for a few reasons. First, since his parents are named Clyde and Clover, his keepers wanted a “C” name. Second, it was “National Cheese Lovers Day” a couple days before his birth. And third, our President and CEO Jack Mulvena was the first person to see the baby after he was born!

The bongo calf was named Makumi by his keepers, which means tens in Swahili. He was the 10th mammal born at Naples Zoo in 2019 and was born at the end of the 2010s. Eastern bongos are the largest of the forest antelope. Slender-horned gazelles have a small, compact build. For size comparison, the gazelle calf weighed just 3.5 pounds at birth, while the bongo                                                                   weighed approximately 48 pounds!

These births are very important for the conservation of their species, as both the Eastern bongo and slender-horned gazelle are
critically endangered. Eastern, or mountain, bongo were hunted out over a century ago in Uganda and only about 100 of these
beautiful antelope remain in the wild in Kenya. Slender-horned gazelles are also affected by hunting and increased human activity in their ranges.

Naples Zoo works to save these species by participating in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP). This national plan helps to create sustainable populations of threatened and endangered species. The parents of each of the babies were specifically matched by the SSP based on their ancestry, to create the greatest genetic diversity in the population over the next century. When explaining the SSP to guests, keepers say it’s like a scientific version of both and

If you haven’t made it to see the babies yet, their yards are located across from the tortoise exhibits and between the clouded leopard and cotton-top tamarin exhibits. You can’t help but fall in love when you look at their sweet faces

Zoobilee returns to Naples Zoo Next Month…don’t miss it

Get ready for the wildest party of the year!
ZOObilee, presented by FPL, returns to Naples Zoo on Friday, February 7, 2020 from 7 pm to 10 pm. Naples Zoo’s annual fundraiser is a wonderfully unique night that includes live music, up close animal encounters, and sweet and savory culinary samples from more than 30 of Southwest Florida’s best restaurants, caterers, and food trucks. Beer and wine will also be served at this 21 and up event.

During ZOObilee, guests will experience Naples Zoo like never before. There will be colorful lights used to light up trees, photo opportunities, and unique animal encounters that guests don’t usually experience when visiting during a normal day. There are two ticket options to choose from. The $100 ticket gets you in to the event, where the food, animal encounters, and entertainment are included. Guests with this ticket will still need to purchase alcohol.

The $250 VIP ticket allows guests to enter an hour early, at 6 pm, and beer and wine are included! Naples Zoo
members get a discount of $25 off tickets. All proceeds from this event support Naples Zoo’s education programs and conservation initiatives.

If you’d like a chance to go on an African safari for two, led by Naples Zoo directors, guests can purchase a raffle ticket either at ZOObilee or online beforehand at Only 300 raffle tickets will be sold for this once in a lifetime safari for two to Tanzania.

During the safari, the winner will visit Oldupai Gorge, Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and so much more, with accommodations at premium safari lodges. The safari package includes the safari, activities, lodging, and meals, but does not include international airfare. The winner does not have to be present at ZOObilee to win.


by Kelsey Burr, Naples Zoo Marketing Associate

Naples Zoo is now the temporary home of 52 stunning images of some of the world’s most iconic and rare animals. The National Geographic Photo Ark is a traveling photo exhibition that features large-format, captivating images taken by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. The exhibition is at Naples Zoo now through April 20, 2020 and is included in regular Zoo admission.

The National Geographic Photo Ark is an ambitious project committed to documenting every species living in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries—inspiring people not just to care, but also to help protect these animals for future generations. The Photo Ark is a compelling and visually powerful project that aims to photograph species before it is too late. In addition to creating an archival record
for generations to come, this project is a hopeful platform for conservation and shines a light on individuals and organizations working to preserve species around the world.

“The National Geographic Photo Ark has already  inspired millions around the world with the message that it is not too late to save some of the world’s most endangered species,” said Kathryn Keane, vice president of Exhibitions, National Geographic Society. “Joel Sartore has demonstrated what one man can do using the power of photography—and now National Geographic wants to inspire people all over the country to contribute to this global challenge.”

Sartore has photographed more than 9,000 species around the world as part of the Photo Ark. His goal is to get portraits of over 12,000 species, representing several animal classes, including birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.

A few of our Naples Zoo animals are also featured in the National Geographic Photo Ark. Sartore visited Naples Zoo a few years ago and photographed Kaa our reticulated python, Oasis, one of our Damara zebras, our white-headed brown lemurs Barry and Victoria, and Uno, the late Florida panther. These breathtaking images will be some of the photos on display throughout the Zoo.

For schools, the Naples Zoo Education Department is offering a limited-time Field Trip Experience to go along with the exhibition. It’s called “Wildlife Through a Lens”. Students will get hands-on experience using digital cameras at the Zoo to create their own images to inspire conservation. Students will then design and construct a take-home frame for their favorite image. Field Trip
Experiences are taught by Zoo educators in our onsite classroom.

To learn more, visit We are hoping to host Joel Sartore at Naples Zoo in the spring for a presentation. Keep an eye out on our Facebook page and website,, for details to come.


Naples Zoo tells us… 5 Animals You May Have Missed

When guests visit Naples Zoo, they often beeline to ride the Primate Expedition Cruise, feed the giraffes, or visit our lion pride that includes three adorable lion cubs; but there are some animals that may get missed along the way, those who aren’t as easy to spot or as well-known. We’ve narrowed down five to highlight:


Sharing the habitat with our giant anteater are two adorable animals called red-rumped agoutis. They are brothers named Ren and Stimpy. Agoutis are rodents native to South America that resemble really large guinea pigs. They are the only animals capable of cracking open the tough outer shell of a Brazilian nut using just their teeth. You might see the agoutis at the zoo digging – they will bury their food for later, much like a squirrel!



When guests see these birds, they often stop to stare at their beautiful and unique feather crown, but they may not know very much about this species. Black-crowned cranes are the national bird of Nigeria. These birds are monogamous and appear to mate for life. They perform elaborate dance displays to bond that include bowing, leaping, running, and more. We have two pairs at the zoo: Duck Duck and Goose live with mountain bongos, while Jerry and Elaine live with the sitatunga.


Across from the red-rumped agoutis are two different tortoise habitats. One is the home to red-footed tortoises and Aldabra tortoises. The other is the home to two gopher tortoises. Red-footed tortoises are native to Central and South America. We have three males named  Larry, Moe, and Curly, after The Three Stooges! Sharing space with the red-footed tortoises are two Aldabra tortoises. Aldabra tortoises are truly amazing – they can live to be at least 100 years old and males can weigh over 500 pounds! While the gopher tortoises next door are a local species, they are still very important to see and learn about.  Gopher tortoises are considered a keystone species (a species  that is an indicator of ecosystem health) because they create burrows that are utilized by at least 350 other species. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) lists the gopher tortoise as Threatened. Both the tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law. Per FWC, gopher tortoises must be relocated before any land clearing or development takes place, and property owners must obtain permits from the FWC before capturing and relocating tortoises.


Sitatunga are a swamp-dwelling antelope native to Africa. Sitatunga are excellent swimmers – when threatened, they can go completely underwater leaving just their nose exposed. At Naples Zoo, we have three male sitatunga: Beau, Dallas, and Korben, who live across from our cheetah and hyena habitats. They all love playing in water and getting their horns dirty. Sitatunga also make a sqeak sound that sort of sounds like a frog, and Beau’s keepers say he loves to talk!



Reeve’s muntjac are a type of small deer native to China and Taiwan. These little guys can be found across from our
black bear and red-ruffed lemur exhibits. Although they are mainly herbivorous, they will sometimes eat meat! They’re known as the “barking deer” because they make a sharp barking sound, like a dog, when alarmed. This muntjac gets it common name from John Reeves, a British naturalist who lived in China in the early 19th century. Here at Naples Zoo, we have three females named Leah, Sarah, and Carrie, and one male named Tyler. You can tell Tyler apart because as a male, he is the only one with antlers. Look closely for these deer around the trees and bushes in their yard to find them!

We hope you visit to seek out these often overlooked animals on your next visit to Naples Zoo, read their exhibit signs, and learn something new.

Zookeepers Visit Africa – Hands-On in Giraffe Conservation

by Kelsey Burr, Naples Zoo Marketing Associate

Naples Zoo is proud to be a VIP partner of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), the only nongovernmental organization in the world that concentrates solely on the conservation and management of giraffe in the wild throughout Africa. Naples Zoo also funds the salary of Dr. Sara Ferguson, GCF’s wildlife veterinarian in Uganda.

Two of our Hoofstock Keepers, Nicole and Rachael, recently traveled to Uganda to participate hands-on in giraffe conservation with GCF and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). They started in Kidepo Valley National Park, where population numbers of giraffe were down to just three individuals in the 1990s.

In August 2018, 14 giraffe were translocated from Murchison Falls to Kidepo Valley to supplement the population in Operation Twiga III (twiga is Swahili for giraffe). Funds from Naples Zoo’s World Giraffe Day celebration in 2018 helped support that GCF operation.

During Nicole and Rachael’s expedition in March, they were able to witness a conservation success story – their survey counted a total of 61 giraffe in the park, including 12 new calves!

“While surveying, we also saw a herd of over 10 male giraffe. This was exciting for us to find a bachelor herd like we have here in Naples and to observe the similar behaviors that we also watch our giraffe doing,” Rachael said.

While they were there, Nicole and Rachael also helped GCF collar five giraffe to track their activity. “Because Kidepo is so close to South Sudan, we want to watch their travels and herd activity across borders,” Nicole said.

GCF reported that one of those giraffethey collared, a male Nubian giraffe namedLuca, was the first recorded giraffe to movefrom Uganda into South Sudan and returnsafely to the park. In a Facebook post, GCF says this information is vital for planning effective long-term conservation policies to save these endangered giraffe.

After Kidepo Valley, Nicole and Rachael and their group made the trek to Murchison Falls to collar 15 more giraffe. The group’s last stop was Pian-Upe Game Reserve. GCF wanted to survey the area to decide whether or not giraffe could successfully inhabit the area.

“Not too long ago, giraffes used to live-in the reserve. Unfortunately they no longer roam there,” Nicole said.

After surveying the area, GCF decided it would be good giraffe habitat. Now GCF and UWA plan to translocate some giraffe from Murchison Falls to Pian-Upe.

Giraffe numbers in Africa have plummeted by around 30% over the last 30 years. GCF says to save giraffe in Africa, we need to gain a better understanding of where giraffe live, where they move and how they use their habitat.

Summer Fun at Naples Zoo

by Kelsey Burr, Naples Zoo Marketing Associate

While summer isn’t considered ‘season’, Naples Zoo still has plenty of fun events coming up! We strive to have events all year long for local families and visitors from out-of-town.


In May, we celebrate Mother’s Day by offering free admission to all moms with a paid child ticket. The deal is offered from Friday, May 10th through Sunday, May 12th. A coupon can be found on our website,

On May 11th, in honor of our 100 year anniversary as a garden, we will be celebrating the birthday of Dr. Henry Nehrling. Nehrling founded our botanical garden back in 1919, and many of his original plants remain.

There will be activities for children, a birthday cookie decorating station, and special enrichment for the animals.


For Father’s Day, we offer free admission to all dads with a paid child ticket, with the coupon found on our website at

The deal is offered from Friday, June 14th through Sunday, June 16th.June is also a special month for giraffes. The Zoo will be celebrating World Giraffe Day on Saturday, June 22nd.

Activities include a scavenger hunt, giraffe education stations, and a giraffe “Meet the Keeper” talk at 1 pm. Guests can also purchase “Save the Giraffe” wristbands. But the fun doesn’t stop at the Zoo! In the evening of the 22nd, we are hosting “Longnecks for Longnecks”, a fundraiser for giraffes at South Street City Oven and Grill.

For every longneck beer sold during the event, South Street will donate $2 to Naples Zoo for giraffe conservation. There will also be raffles and a silent auction.


In July, one of our most popular events is returning! Guests can meet Marvel© super heroes Thor and Spider-Man! The event is from Friday, July 12th through Sunday, July 14th. Meet and greet times are from 10 am to 3 pm.

Become a Member and Save! The best way to experience all the fun Naples Zoo has to offer is to become a Zoo Member! Membership allows you to visit for free all yearlong. Plus, you’ll get discounts on food at Wynn’s Cafe, most items in the Gift Shop, programs such as Safari Squad, Camp WILD, Zoo Yoga, and Wild Encounters, and more. You’ll also receive exclusive benefits like the Member Walking Club, Member Tours, and an annual Member Night. Family memberships start at $99.

We hope to see you at Naples Zoo this summer!