Jungle Island is one of Miami's oldest attractions. It opened in 1936 as "Parrot Jungle" and was known for parrot-on-a-bicycle shows. Not much has changed since then. It's animal shows have remained little more than circus-acts, but in a desperate attempt to turn around disappointing ticket sales, the focus has switched from parrots to more "exotic" animals like tigers and orangutans.

Jungle Island teaches irresponsible and harmful lessons about conservation and how people should interact with wild animals. For example, Jungle Island encourages visitors to hold tigers, orangutans, chimpanzees and other animals for photographs. On it's website Jungle Island promises, "there is always an assortment of cuddly [tiger] cubs who are sure to bring a smile to your face." Of course, these animals can only be used for this purpose as babies, therefore creating a never-ending cycle of breeding and disposal of adult animals.

The big cat show at Jungle Island features white tigers and ligers (offspring of a male lion and a female tiger). These sad animals are not found in the wild; they are bred merely to retain their genetic abnormalities. This unnecessary breeding has led to serious birth defects and they often suffer lifelong health problems, if they survive to adulthood. Jungle Island is also notorious for renting out its orangutans and other animals for use in film television shows and commercials.

photo by Troy Thomas

Employees with questionable histories. In June 2012, Jungle Island added a new daily show called "Dr. Wasabi's Wild Adventures." Dr. Wasabi is the stage name for Dwayne Cunningham. In 1999, Cunningham received 14-month prison sentence for smuggling endangered iguanas and tortoises into the United States.

Public Danger. On August 28, 2010, a 500-pound tiger jumped or climbed over the fence of his enclosure at Jungle Island to chase after a gibbon who had also escaped from his cage. A park visitor told the Miami Herald, "People were running for their lives." A terrified public hid inside buildings as the tiger roamed the park. Following the incident, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission charged Bern Levine, the owner of Jungle Island, with two violations of state wildlife regulations for allowing conditions that resulted in the animals' escape (the cage in which the tiger was kept did not meet state requirements). The owner of the tiger, Bhagavan Antle, was charged with one count of maintaining captive wildlife in an unsafe condition, resulting in threats to public safety.

Loss of AZA-accreditation. In 1999, Jungle Island lost its accreditation with the American Zoo & Aquarium Association (which represents over 200 established and reputable zoos in North America), after a review found problems with veterinary care, and concerns were raised about the safety of allowing visitors to feed parrots, the confinement of parrots in "stark environments" with no retreat from visitors, and the removal of young primates from their mothers so that they could be used in shows.

Dumping of older animals. Once babies outgrow their usefulness as crowd pleasers they are disposed of. The owner of Jungle Island, Bern Levine, discarded an elderly chimpanzee named Edith who was sent to live at a roadside menagerie in Texas in a filthy, barren enclosure.

Jungle Island

Doc Antle
Jungle Island's big cat show is a production of Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, a breeder and trainer of exotic animals who runs a similar show in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Antle claims to have bred more tigers than any other individual in the United States.

A review of the show at Jungle Island, posted in May 2009 on the ratings/review website yelp.com, explained how each show ends with a sales pitch:

"Then you're given the rare and unique opportunity to take a photo with a Gibbon or the lion cub. For $60. Now, that might seem worth it because you reason, "when else will I have the chance to hold a lion cub up close and stick a bottle in it's mouth and have a great [if not cheesy] new Facebook photo?" But the entire experience lasts only 1.7 seconds. And that's what bothers me about how it's presented: it's not an experience; it's solely a photo op. The entire time, a trainer is trying to keep the cub focused on not eating your face by holding something up for it to distract it [on this day, it was a plastic shopping bag], a photo is hastily taken [few of them are any good], cute but dangerous animal is removed from your lap, and the next person takes your place."

In 1991, Antle brought a lion to an ill-fated photo shoot in New Hampshire. As a model posed with the animal, the lion suddenly bit her on the head. She received more than 50 stitches to close the wounds, and was later awarded $75,000 in a lawsuit against Antle.

Exploiting great apes in television shows and commercials
In June 2005, primate expert Dr. Jane Goodall, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, and The Chimpanzee Collaboratory, sent urgent appeals to sponsors of Jungle Island, pleading for help to convince the attraction to stop supplying great apes for use in television shows and commercials. In 2005, two baby orangutans from Jungle Island were featured on an episode of The Simple Life with Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie. In May 2006, a young orangutan from Jungle Island was featured in a television commercial for Bennett Auto Supply.

Click here to read Dr. Goodall's letter (.pdf document).

In her letter, Dr. Goodall explains to Jungle Island sponsors that baby orangutans are traumatically separated from their mothers prematurely, causing severe behavioral problems. Dr. Goodall also points to the beatings and electrical shocks given to babies as part of the training it takes to turn apes into performers.

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and the Chimpanzee Collaboratory echo these concerns and ask this urgent question: Where will Jungle Island’s ape actors go for the remaining 50 years of their lives after they mature and become too strong to be dominated by trainers? Many great apes used in television shows and films are destined for deplorable roadside zoos, medical experiments, or euthanasia.

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) has also spoken out against the use of chimpanzees in this manner. In February 2004, the AZA wrote, "The use of chimpanzees and other great apes for entertainment such as this creates terribly wrong perceptions of these animals, who are highly endangered."

It is utterly irresponsible for Jungle Island’s owner, Bern Levine, to continue to add to the exploitation of these animals by leasing them out as forced performers in television shows or commercials.

In the words of Jane Goodall, “The time has come to move beyond the misuse of creatures who are vulnerable to our exploitation precisely because they are so like us.”

 
 

You Can Help
• Never pay to see a liger or white tiger. The cruel breeding of these "rare" animals will only stop when the public stops paying to see them. Avoid tourist attractions that use baby tigers or other animals to sell photo souvenirs. Aside from the tremendous stress contact with strangers inflicts on the animals, it also creates the need for a constant supply of baby animals - compounding a nationwide crisis of unwanted exotic animals.

• Please contact the following Jungle Island sponsors and let them know that you appreciate their business’ contribution to our community, but urge them to reconsider their support of Jungle Island. Contact:


Online comment form.

Sponsor update: In March 2008, the breakfast cereal company Weetabix contacted ARFF to learn more about Jungle Island. The company was thinking about sponsoring an event at the facility, but became uneasy about the idea after learning that Jungle Island allows and promotes the photographing of young children with young animals, like chimpanzees, orangutans and tigers. ARFF informed Weetabix that associating their company with animal exploitation would likely be offensive to many of their customers who care about the welfare of animals. They quickly agreed to pull the plug on the idea, telling ARFF, "Weetabix and our trading companies are associated with trusted conservation groups… and would never want to be associated with an exploitative venture that harms animals.”

   
 

1431 N. Federal Highway Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304 (954) 727-ARFF