The story of Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens begins with botanist Dr. Henry Nehrling. An early conservationist, Nehrling wrote in 1904, “It is high time to protect and preserve what is still left.”

He first acquired the Naples site in 1919 to avoid a repetition of the disastrous freeze to his plant collection in central Florida in 1917. At that time, this portion of Naples was being sold in farm plots for agriculture. In regard to his new work, he stated, “In my 66th year, I again became a pioneer of the wilderness.”

His newfound devotion allowed him to say in 1925, “My garden, containing about 3,000 species of tropical plants, is a constant source of intense pleasure and delight.”

His new home, the famed “Tropical Garden,” one of the earliest plant collections in Florida, occupied the northern acreage of the present day Gardens.

Many of his plantings, still remaining, provided the inspiration for current endeavors. Dr. David Fairchild, the veteran plant explorer associated with Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Coral Gables, wrote of Nehrling, “He was always a naturalist at heart…a great plantsman of the type so rare that one can hope to meet only a few, even in a long life of travel.”


  • The Black and White Ball was held on Friday, November 10, 2017, at Naples Zoo, and included an exclusive “First Look” of the Penguins in Paradise traveling exhibit.
  • The event raised $477,000.
  • Black and White Ball event chairs: Terry & Bob Edwards and Jody & Gerald Lippes
  • The event supported hurricane relief and the Glass Animal Hospital
  • To view the images of post-Hurricane Irma damage go to
  • The décor featured different shades of blush from the table linens to the centerpieces. Elegant chandeliers hung through the middle of the tent were accompanied by lush draping along the top of the tent.
  • MO5AIC was the entertainer. They are an acapella group that performed after dinner.
  • African penguins are critically endangered – this event and the traveling exhibit were incredible opportunities to share the story of African penguins and teach others how they can help. In the early 20th century, Africa was home to an estimated one million breeding pairs of penguins. Today, a mere 2.5% of that population remains. Accredited zoos including Naples Zoo support the Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) initiative to pool their resources to prevent the loss of this endangered species.
  • Guests were able to meet African penguins at the Black and White Ball and take photos with them.


  • Event rebranded for future events as Zoo Gala.
  • This year’s theme is ‘In the Garden of Eden’ in honor of the Centennial Anniversary of Dr. Nehrling’s Tropical Garden
  • Zoo Gala: In the Garden of Eden event chairs: Terry & Bob Edwards and Jody & Gerald Lippes
  • This event will support Naples Zoo’s new education center.
  • Naples Zoo’s on-site educational programming is strong, however, there is an increasing demand for expansion of the zoo’s science and conservation education portfolio. In order to help meet this demand and provide quality on-site space for programming, the Zoo is actively raising funds for a new education center. At present, Naples Zoo is utilizing a modular classroom, recently installed to provide temporary, limited space until the education
    center is built. The center will serve as a base of operations for visiting school groups and teachers and students engaged in formal conservation, environmental and science education classes. Once the center is completed, the Zoo conservatively estimates that an additional 15,000 to 20,000 pre-school and school aged children will participate annually in formal on-site programming. Through the generosity of the Hamill Family Foundation, the Zoo was awarded a $2.5 million challenge grant toward the education center’s total cost for completion. Donors who earmark their support for the education center will have their contributions matched dollar for dollar by the foundation.