A weekly column by Catherine Dugan. This week: the Cape May County Park and Zoo.
Eight-year-old Mackenzie Procopio of Aberdeen, New Jersey, had one non-negotiable item on her Cape May agenda – she was going to see the snow leopard cubs at the Cape May Zoo. The zoo’s newest residents had made the news in Florida, and Mackenzie’s great-grandmother wanted pictures. You don’t argue with great-grandmothers, so we left the beach and headed to the zoo.
A Victorian town like Cape May deserves a great zoo, as Victorians loved collecting, organizing and categorizing the natural world. Menageries had been kept by royalty for thousands of years, and in the Victorian era, zoos went public. The London Zoo, which opened in 1828, called itself the first “scientific” zoo, and by the late 19th century, a trip to the zoo was a standard family outing.
The Cape May Zoo began modestly, with one lion, a few spider monkeys, and some barnyard animals. The 1980s brought expansion, with construction of the reptile house and the addition of camels and big cats. The 1990s brought AZA accreditation, the African Savannah, and a growing reputation for excellence.
Today, the Cape May County Park and Zoo should not be missed. The 200-acre site features ball fields, hiking trails, and picnic areas. With an aviary, amphibian house and outdoor habitats, it hosts more than 500 animals. 250 species are represented. The snow leopard cubs – Kaba and Sabu – were born on May 11, and quickly became famous. Nor are they the zoo’s only celebrities – reportedly, Doris Duke’s giraffes and Michael Jackson’s flamingos call the Cape May Zoo home.
On the day of our visit, the snow leopards drew a crowd. Mackenzie, armed with a map, led us directly to them, ignoring the ducks and deer along the way. Sabu peeked out, we snapped a picture, and then we were free to wander less crowded areas.
The zebras charmed us with their grace, the giraffes with their delicate nibbles, and the lion with his regal tolerance. The black bear slept and scratched its belly, and the alligators fed our dinosaur dreams. The ducks and farm animals ate everything we fed them, and the peacocks strutted their stuff. We stayed for hours, left for a brief picnic in the park, and came back again for one last look. It was a great day.
The zoo is free, although donations are encouraged. The zoo opens at 10am every day but Christmas. Make your grandmother happy. Go to the zoo.
Next week: The Wildwood Boardwalk