Expanding Education at the Zoo

by Tim L. Tetzlaff Alligator Bay habitat at the Zoo.
Director of Conservation & Communications | Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens


While the Scooby-Doo style monsters are usually out for revenge or money, the real monsters offer medical breakthroughs. I’m speaking of the Gila monster. Based on research showing that blood sugar levels in this venomous lizard do not fluctuate before or after long periods of dormancy followed by eating big meals, doctors developed medications for type 2 diabetes derived from a peptide found in Gila monster venom. In similar fashion, numerous heart patients also benefit from drugs derived from snake venom and more venoms are being tested to treat breast and brain cancer.

As for skunks, the connection is much simpler. Although your dog might occasionally get the smelly end of the deal playing with a skunk, these black and white omnivores typically spend each and every night ridding our world of the rodents and bugs that would overrun us without natural predators – like skunks, snakes and monsters.

These are the types of unseemly creatures that most people would eradicate from our planet if they could wave a magic wand, but it turns out far more of us benefit from them than are ever harmed. It’s a critically important concept for young people to understand as they become more disconnected from nature.


For decades, Naples Zoo guests have connected with messages like these shared by professional biologists and zoologists in settings from a casual keeper talk to video-supported presentations in the Safari Canyon theater. Communicating key messages about nature through live presenters has been a core approach for decades reinforced by significant anecdotal evidence in our long history and supported even more through recent research. Living animals personally interpreted can create life-changing moments.

It’s the reason why the Zoo received the prestigious Harvey Kapnick Award from the Community Foundation of Collier County for exemplifying program excellence. And it’s why Gulfshore Life magazine recognized the Zoo as the “Best Place to Take the Kids” and Naples Daily News awarded us the top honor in “Nature/Education” category.

Because of the Zoo’s success with educational programming tied to the visitor experience, great demand has developed from the community for a dramatic expansion of offerings to include preschool classes for parents and children to enjoy together, a Zoo Camp program for  elementary and middle school children, and a formalized outreach into our area’s public and private schools.


Current staff recently developed a well received pilot program focusing on our state’s alligators and their ecosystems that began last school year with elementary students at Seacrest Country Day School.

Our herpetologists engaged with students through school visits, video conferences, and field trips to the Zoo. This curriculum-wide program
spread out from science and included sculpting a life size alligator, performing a play with accurate scientific data, and culminated in students confidently sharing all they learned to our guests near the Alligator Bay habitat at the Zoo.

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