Brevard Zoo, Take Three

The first thing you notice when you enter the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Fla., is its jungle-like atmosphere. It’s full of trees and vines, and the heat and humidity common to Florida only add to the effect.

I wrote previously about Brevard Zoo’s big cats, and meerkats, but I was fortunate enough to see some interesting birds in and around the foliage, as well.

Some were water birds, like the sandhill cranes, and the roseate spoonbills.

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Roseate spoonbills look like a cross between a pelican and a flamingo.

Other large birds, like these eagles, and the vultures, prefer to hunt from the sky.

eagle and immature
Eagle and immature eagle. Did not manage to see the other parent.
king vulture coolin
This king vulture, on the right, struck a pose while trying to keep cool.

You can pay extra to feed the smaller birds, or walk through the aviary to see what other birds you can find.

Memorable meerkats

Each time I visit a zoo, there’s an animal that captures my attention, and a little bit of my heart. This time, aside from the big cats, which I always spend most of my time watching, I discovered meerkats.

I knew very little about them. I’d seen commercials for Meerkat Manor, but never watched the show. They were much smaller than I thought they’d be: just under a foot tall, and about 2.2 pounds each. These carnivores communicate via shrill calls and purrs, and keep a sharp lookout for birds of prey.

meerkat eyeballin
I caught this one eyeballing me.

They are part of the mongoose family, and have sharp, little teeth they put to use when hunting rodents. In the wild, they are found in south African plains. It’s always good to run into an animal handler or volunteer while at the zoo, and this time was no exception. The Mama of this particular clan, I was told, could be recognized by the black skin tag hanging  off her chin. I don’t think it detracted from her looks, though.

Mama meerkat other
Mama is on the left. She started the meerkat clan which lives at the Brevard Zoo.

I didn’t see any playful otters at the Brevard Zoo. But the meerkats made up for that.

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I think this one was listening for the dinner bell.

Big cats, Florida-style

Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, FL, has just two types of big cats, but they are well worth seeing. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a cheetah, although I’ve tried. Several zoos I’ve visited lately have advertised this version of spotted cat, but they’ve been busy napping, or hiding, when I stopped by.

My husband and some of our extended family stalked the cheetah enclosure a few times last week, and we were able to withstand the heat and humidity long enough to stay for the cheetah “talk” that afternoon. Like most cats, the big females slept and rested through most of the day, but roused themselves when three of their keepers, armed with big poles just in case, came through the gate for a visit.

cheetah comin
Is it dinnertime, yet?

The three girls made halfhearted attempts at playing with balls tossed around by the staff members, but it was too hot for them to agree to play. They did, however, lay down well in sight of our group, and tolerated much picture taking, to our delight.

We learned that cheetahs can run up to 50 mph, but only in short sprints. In the wild, they gorge themselves so much on prey they have to rest before moving on to digest their meal in a safe place. Wild cheetahs live in Africa, and the females are solitary unless mating or mothering cubs. Since there are no male cheetahs at the Brevard Zoo, these girls will be kept together as long as they tolerate each others’ company.

Earlier in the day, we spied several sleeping jaguars. One wanted to be left alone.

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This big cat slept away the afternoon.

The other, we spied napping by a wall, looking very much like it would enjoy a nice scratch under the chin. The enclosure wisely prevented anyone from trying.

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While it looks like a big house cat, this pretty jaguar would not make a good pet.