My last trip to the zoo was at least a decade ago and I’ve had an inexplicable hankering to visit since last year. Hope Zoo welcomed its first visitors in 1961 but inadequate funding, deterioration and a dwindling animal population led to a decline in public interest. This paved the way for private ownership and in 2011, the Hope Zoo Preservation Foundation (HZPF) took reins. Devising a model from local and international environment and wildlife preservation bodies, the Hope Zoo was transformed to tell the Jamaican story by showcasing local fauna alongside African macrovertebrates and American jungle species since these regions have had the greatest impact on Jamaica.
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How to Find the Hope Zoo
Hope Zoo is centrally located on the grounds of Hope Gardens on Old Hope Road, just before reaching the University of Technology (UTech) in Papine. The zoo is located less than 5 minutes’ drive or 15 minutes’ walk from the garden’s entrance gates. Parking is available at the zoo for J$200, just be sure to tell the guards you’re going to the zoo and not the garden. Besides viewing the animals, other activities are offered such as guided tours (extra cost of J$2,000), the petting zoo, feeding the budgerigars (additional cost of J$100.00 per person) and dining at the Serengetti Bistro. Carry a picnic basket since restrooms, numerous gazebos and tables are available. Also, if you haven’t visited the botanical garden recently or its 2015 addition of the Harmonious Enjoyment Garden, take some time to explore these before or after your zoo visit.
They’re open everyday from 10am to 5pm but close half hour later on weekends and public holidays. A zoo day pass costs J$1,500 for adults and $1,000 for children and senior citizens, but occasional discounts exist which you can obtain from their website. Purchase your ticket at the cashier then prepare to revisit your childhood for the next few hours.
The Birds of Hope Zoo
The zoo is arranged in a sort of ring road so it’s easy to find every animal without a tour guide. Majority of the zoo’s residents are of the avian species and flamingos were the welcoming parties.
Next up were the macaws.
I lost count of the various birds I saw along the way– graceful black swans, elegant mute swans, colourful peacocks, noisy Amazon and Caribbean parrots, toucans, owls, budgerigars, cockatiels, ibises, mandarin ducks and wood ducks. Some were rather silent and solitary; others were sociable but quarrelsome. I see emus listed on their website and on-site directory but alas, they were elusive on my visit. On the other hand, the ostriches were impossible to miss– majestic and beautiful, the world’s largest birds which are thankfully flightless. I don’t suppose they’d look very graceful in flight. The flamingos, ostriches and few parrots which spoke were my favourite of the birds because the pandemonium of parrots, after a while, got very repetitive.
The Mammals of Hope Zoo
Jamaica’s only remaining endemic land mammal is the Jamaican hutia or coney, and it’s been an endangered species for as long as I can remember. Thus, I was really looking forward to seeing a coney for perhaps the second or third time in my life but since they’re nocturnal, they were hiding in their boxes sound asleep and out of sight. The zoo’s most famed resident is Lucas the lion but I wasn’t too impressed by him. Lions are rather lazy creatures which spend most of their time asleep (like 20 hours a day), so lionesses are the real stars for me. As was expected, the dark-haired king of the jungle Lucas was asleep in a far corner so all I got was a glimpse of him and lousy photo. The lioness was also out of sight.
So, what mammals did I see then? I saw a bobcat, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, a cute white-throated capuchin, a herd of white-tailed deer, a business of mongooses, a team of miniature horses, a drove of donkeys and a zeal of zebras. I enjoyed them all– even the mongooses which are pretty common across Jamaica. These ones stood up and looked at me with genuine curiosity rather than dashing off like they always do “in the wild.”
The Reptiles of Hope Zoo
Last but not least are the reptiles– snakes, iguanas, turtles and of course, the American crocodile. Pictured below are two of the four snakes and croc Jaws in all his glory. He displayed an open toothy grin for his admirers.
Quite an enjoyable afternoon out with the family, I enjoyed the Hope Zoo very much. In my opinion, there’s still room for expansion in terms of getting new species but they’ve still done a great job with the place. The animals seemed to be tended to lovingly, their enclosures didn’t look too small and I could see where they tried to make it stimulating and mimic their natural environments. I also appreciated the signs by every enclosure listing the name, habits, behaviour and fun facts about the animal. I rate the experience four stars, ☆☆☆☆ and this makes place #4 down from 2018’s inexpensive Jamaican bucket list. If you’re in Kingston, continue supporting the Hope Gardens and Zoo. Follow them on Facebook to keep up with their events, such as the JDF’s Military Band performance every third Sunday of the month, inexpensive yoga classes and early morning birdwatching walks.
Find out more about Hope Zoo’s history, its vision and the animals which call it home here. Also, I hope my use of collective nouns was entertaining. I promise you I invented none of them.
‘Til next time. ✌