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.
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'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
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.
here to read Dr. Goodall's letter (.pdf document).
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.
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,
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."
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
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.”