Naples Zoo Myths Revealed

Dave's Wild Life

With Naples Zoo being in the news lately about the potential to expand by 22 acres, there was plenty of discussion about the Zoo around town and online. Although the opportunity to expand is off the table (for now) the talk revealed there are still plenty of misconceptions about Naples Zoo. Here are the 8 myths and the truth behind them.

Myth 1: Collier Residents are Paying Taxes for Zoo Operations

This is a popular misconception because most zoos around the country receive significant funding from taxes. Naples Zoo, however, receives no operating dollars from taxpayers.

This idea began with the tax that 73% of the voters approved in 2004 to buy the 43 acres of land under the Zoo along with 70 acres of green space east of the Zoo. While the Zoo obviously benefitted from that vote, none of that money went to the Zoo. It paid the Fleischmann family for their land. And that tax was retired over a year ago, paid off in just four years - six years early. So today, Collier residents are paying no taxes for the land and have never paid taxes to support Zoo operations.

It is hard to not make to make comparisons to other zoos and their communities with the tax support they provide their zoos. After all, even a nominal tax to fund Zoo operations would greatly accelerate the Master Plan for Coastal Africa, Asia, and the Americas with all new guest and wildlife experiences. Even without this support, however, Naples Zoo has made impressive strides in the past five years. Thanks to ticket, membership, and retail sales along with our growing number of donors, new exhibits debut annually and the animal collection continues to grow in size and diversity.

And thanks to the County Commissioners voting to treat the Zoo consistently with other nonprofits operating on Collier County owned land, the Zoo now pays a nominal rent for its land. This is also consistent with other communities and their zoos. With those savings; the Zoo replaced the 1970s bleachers with all new seating in the Safari Canyon theater, added a fourth tour boat on the cruise to decrease wait times, purchased a new tractor to better care for the grounds, re-sealed and re-striped the parking lots, re-painted the gift store exterior, replaced our antiquated ticket and membership system to improve guest services, and we created an all-new 8 habitat wildlife display in the gift shop featuring poison dart frogs and Gila monsters. And this fall, the Zoo breaks ground on much needed additional public restrooms near the Cub Kingdom playground.

Myth 2: Naples Zoo is a Family-Owned Private Business

This is an easy one to understand the confusion on. Until 2005, this was true. Beginning in 1969, my parents, Lawrence and Nancy Jane Tetzlaff, leased the land from the Fleischmann estate. For years, the Tetzlaffs privately subsidized the Naples location with funds from their summer operations at Cedar Point theme park in Ohio. As Naples grew, the Zoo was able to stand on its own and operated in the black. During this time, the Tetzlaffs also chose to continue investing and improving the Zoo when it had no long-term lease with the Fleischmanns. This was risky good faith money that paid off when the 2004 referendum was presented to the taxpayers. The Zoo had grown to become a community treasure worth saving.

When the County officially bought the land from the Fleischmanns on December 19, 2005, the nonprofit Naples Zoo, Inc. controlled by its new Board of Directors took over operations. This was a requirement for Naples Zoo to operate on publicly owned land. The Board retained David Tetzlaff as Executive Director.

Myth 3: The County or City Operates the Zoo

The Naples Zoo Board of Directors operates the Zoo. The County does not control Naples Zoo nor has it ever. And the Zoo is not within the city limits so the City is not directly connected in any way.

Myth 4: Naples Zoo is Expensive

This is all based on perspective. And comparing different leisure activities is often comparing apples to oranges. Our admission is comparable to many area activities and far less than some, but caring for rare and endangered animals is an expensive enterprise for any zoo. The question is who pays for it. For example, Naples Zoo’s admission is $19.95. Another nearby Florida zoo is $15.95 and has a larger facility. But 49% of that zoo’s funding comes from taxpayers. 0% of Naples Zoo funding comes from tax payers.

Throughout the year, Naples Zoo offers many opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the Zoo at reduced or no cost. In fact, more than 1 in 5 guests in 2010 were welcomed at no charge. First and foremost are the 12 days each year when Collier residents are welcomed at no charge on the first Saturday of each month. Naples Zoo also has various free offers throughout the year for children, veterans, emergency workers, etc. Plus, discount online tickets are available all the time at And Membership offers a great value and Collier residents receive 50% off on Family and Grandparent memberships.

Myth 5: There Aren’t Many Animals at the Zoo

Naples Zoo has long focused on wildlife presentations. So if guests don’t see the shows, they miss half the Zoo. Why do we focus on shows? National research shows that the average Zoo visitor spends less than 20 seconds at an animal exhibit. And according to one study, less than 1 in 10 visitors read any sign in the Zoo. By seeing the shows and scheduled activities, guests not only discover more animals but they also have the best opportunity to see animals active while learning from a live interpreter.

Myth 6: The Idea to Pursue the 22-acres North of the Zoo was Stopped Because . . .

First the obvious: The Board of County Commissioners did not decide to do this. They voted 4-1 to put the referendum on the ballot. So any speculation about budgets and the plans of certain Commissioners is incorrect. Jackson Labs was also not a factor. If it were, this would not have been pursued in the first place. The simple truth is that an agreement could not be reached between the landowners and their bank. Without an agreement on the value, the Naples Zoo Board and The Trust for Public Land were not going to move forward.

Myth 7: Naples Zoo isn’t a Botanical Garden

While wildlife is the main attraction for most visitors, the lush backdrop of botanicals provides a stunning setting for the rare creatures. Today’s Naples Zoo began as a tropical garden in 1919 when Dr. Henry Nehrling first planted on this site. Following his death in 1929, many of the local residents raided his garden and some rare specimens in the Naples area trace their origins to his garden. Many of his large trees remain. They have been historically designated and have appropriate markers.

Julius Fleischmann also introduced numerous botanicals when he was digging the lakes and creating the paths through the garden in the 1950s. The Tetzlaffs continued the pattern of planting more specimens. This continues to the present time under the nonprofit board incorporating botanicals geographically appropriate to the wildlife. Hundreds of plants and trees have been labeled in recent years. For those specifically interested in the botanical garden, there is a tour offered on Sundays.

Of course, we also have a wonderful new botanical garden in Naples and it is greatly hoped everyone will enjoy the different styles the two gardens offer.

Myth 8: Zoo Conservation Only Means Breeding Endangered Species

Breeding of rare species is certainly a top priority for Naples Zoo. At the same time, the Zoo’s efforts reach far beyond its borders. The Naples Zoo Conservation Fund supports diverse research and educational projects to help people and wildlife in countries around the world as well as locally with our own endangered panthers.

The Zoo is also a full partner in the Seafood Watch program to educate people on which fish to choose while dining to support healthy oceans. In addition, 10% of the purchase price of plush toy primates and predators supports the conservation of lions, tigers, and lemurs. And last autumn, Naples Zoo began a new program of funding the planting of a tree for each child and chaperone on a field trip as well as adults who hosts a company picnic or evening function at the Zoo. 10 trees are planted for each Family or Grandparent Membership with even more for Conservator and Patron levels. So far, this totals over 58,000 trees in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.


I hope that clarifies a few of these misconceptions. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy coming out to see our new giraffe herd. You can now see them more than a year early in their Preview Exhibit from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

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