On our last day in Manaus before heading back home, we let the kids vote on (most of) the plan. Yes, I had to see the famous opera house and that was non-negotiable. The kids chose the zoo, probably because we had not seen enough of the animals they thought they would in the thick-scrubby woods of the Amazon forest.
The Manaus zoo was rated among the top 25 in South America in 2014. Take that one with a grain of salt. As my friends know, I am no fan of zoos, being the bleeding heart that I am about animals behind bars. I usually research every zoo I am going to visit to see if they take animals out of the wild (I mean YOU, Dallas Zoo, and your Swaziland baby elephants *rescued* from their mothers…hello, yes you) and I don’t visit those. Also, with apologies to the general universe, but I’m willing to stick to the story, I find that zoos in less-developed countries are struggling to make ends meet and can sometimes not have the best enclosures and care. Phew, was that politically correct enough? Exhausting.
So what about Manaus’ zoo? Well, there is little information and reviews on TripAdvisor go from total disaster to wonderful. I will say that this zoo has the worst marketing team in the whole wide world. Why would that be? The *owners* have other things on their minds. Jungle Warfare to be exact.
The zoo belongs to the military. It is housed at the Army’s Centro de Instrução de Guerra na Selva (CIGS-pronounced *SIGGIES*), which I translate to the Center of Instruction in Jungle Warfare. Tell me that didn’t just give you a little chill. Sounds so cool. But it was, in fact, very very hot. Gorgeous hot Manaus day, probably 90 degrees at 11 am. Yep, winter time.
At CIGS, there are a lot of military folks marching up and down in full black uniforms, black bulletproof vests (I would make a joke about panthers being armed, but this is no joke–the bad guys in the forest are indeed very very bad) and black boots. So I am guessing that they are very hot and very cranky a lot of the time. Fortunately, the zoo was a separate entrance–and lucky us, today was second Saturday of the month and therefore a free day! Bonus!
Honestly, if I could have found a place to donate, I would have done so. This zoo needs money for better enclosures (chain link fence around poisonous or squish-you-into-jello snakes, ummm…) and staffing. We saw one guard in our entire hour in the zoo. He was over by the big ol’cats section probably preventing 10 year olds from leaping off of the overhead walkway. Do not go to this zoo if you have misbehaving wild children. It’s definitely punk.
I could bore you with lots of photos but I think I won’t. Quite a few of the animals had stories about being rescued from the wild when their mothers were killed (GAH!) and the one story from 2016 makes me sad still. Juma, a gorgeous jaguar brought up at CIGS as an orphan, was force to hang out at the Rio Olympic torch relay and got stressed out on her leash, attacked a soldier, and was shot and killed (story here). This is the kind of stuff that makes me crazy. Jaguars are not pets. Anyway, there was a nice sign for Juma by the very sleepy and non-photogenic black panther. There were a number of damaged animals–blinded or otherwise disabled…we read the stories which were adequately translated into English. Surprise!
Birds, birds, birds. Toucans are amazing but if you’ve seen my story about my mother-in-law’s freezing of a toucan, you tend to yawn a bit at the one sitting over on the branch. The kids loved the big cats, and the lifesize statues you could pose under you like the jaguar was eating your head. Which is what they do in real life: they crunch open your skull like a coconut. How’s that for a mental image?
The monkey islands were pretty awesome and they were frisky even in the mega heat. I, however, was not so frisky and we needed to go hang out in the framed bug room which was airconditioned. Yes, a bunch of dead bugs and spiders pinned inside frames and displayed on the other side of a glass wall. Umm.
We also enjoyed the fish who seems to enjoy us. Frankly I forget which fish is which. This might be a piracucu or maybe not. We got the kids an ice cream and it was time to go. I will tell you that this zoo is imminently worth the time and effort (it’s off the beaten track). Go early before the heat gets you.