Originally opened in the early 1970s as Alligator Safari Zoo, this zoo was located on a busy tourist area that is home to dozens of hotels, eateries, and gift shops – The Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway (or as locals call it “Tourist Trap River”) in Kissimmee, Florida. This Zoo was just 15 minutes from the Walt Disney World Resort and 23 minutes from Universal Studios.
Alligator Safari Zoo on opening had over 1600 animals and birds on site. It was also home to the second largest alligator display in the World, a 126-foot-long statue of an alligator eating a jeep, with a tour guide hanging from a rope! The record for biggest alligator statue in the world belongs to Swampy, a 200-foot alligator statue currently residing in Jungle Adventure in Christmas, Florida.
In 1990, Alligator Safari Zoo received a surprise inspection from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). The USDA found several violations on the site which led to the owner, Darren Browning, being cited for:
- Poor and inaccurate record keeping
- Poor Sanitation in cages (including large amounts of decaying dung in monkey cages)
- Structural issues
- Poor veterinary care being provided to the animals
The USDA also recommended that an 8-foot-tall security fence should be erected around the site to stop any wild animals from escaping.
Richard Overton, a USDA inspector who took part in the surprise visit said:
“In the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp, if they didn’t have any dangerous animals or a lot of people around, then they wouldn’t need an 8-foot fence. If one of those got loose you wouldn’t want to have any children close by.”Richard Overton, USDA Inspector (Source: Orlando Sentinal)
Browning was issued with a $1,500 fine by the USDA but refused to pay, claiming that the USDA had no right to regulate his business, and that the violations never existed or were soon fixed.
Due to Browning’s refusal to pay the fine and instead challenge it, the case went to court. In November 1992, Browning represented himself during a 2-day hearing with USDA. Browning chose to represent himself due to an attorney being cost-prohibitive as well as claiming he was just as well versed in exotic animal care as any USDA inspector. Browning lost his case and in 1995 he sold the property.
In 1995, Jungland Zoo opened with 300 exotic animals this time, including African leopards, Bengal Tigers, African caracal, a pair of Himalayan bears, a Siberian tiger, a monkey named Stinker, a lion named Nala, an orangutan named Radcliffe plus over 30 American alligators.
Jungleland Zoo also put on regular daily shows for visitors including a Big Cat show which showcased bobcats, lynxes, the Siberian tiger, and the Bengal Tigers. There was also a “Bushmasters” gator show and a “Magic of the Rainforest” show which showcased the birds.
In 1997, Jungleland Zoo went on to make national headlines when Nala, a 450-pound Lion, escaped from her cage. Days leading up to the event, heavy rainfall flooded the swamp making it a dangerous place for the animals in their cages to be. Due to this flooding, Nala’s handlers tried to raise her cage so that she would be above the flooded swampland and out of danger but instead, she managed to escape.
A helicopter with infra-red cameras was scrambled and more than 20 USDA agents armed with tranquiliser guns searched the nearby area. Residents and tourists in the vicinity were alerted but Jungleland staff claimed that Nala was well natured as she was “hand-raised, declawed and very sociable.”
Government officials struggled to track her due to the localised flooding but on the second day she was spotted a few hundred yards away from her cage. Dr. James Barnett, a veterinarian involved in the search for Nala moved in with his tranquiliser gun but was spotted by Nala who then hissed at him and tried to hide under nearby foliage. Dr. Barnett went on to fire two darts with his first dart missing Nala. The second dart struck her and five minutes later she was sedated.
A local news channel, Channel 6 News, reported that USDA was investigating Jungleland Zoo for possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act and during 2001, three surprise inspections were carried out over a 6-month period by the USDA and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Inspectors flagged various violations including rotted and rusty cages, inadequate fence heights and severe draining issues. The inspectors also noted that “the animals looked healthy.”
“They’ve corrected some of the violations, but we are still concerned about safety issues there.”-Joy Hill, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Dr. James Barnett, the Orlando veterinarian who tranquilised Nala when she escaped and looked after other animals on site, said:
“The allegations of a lack of access of medical treatment for the animals are false. The owners have never denied me the ability to treat the animals. If an animal is sick, they immediately call me.”Dr. James Barnett speaking to Orlando Sentinel regarding claims by Channel 6 News
By this stage, Jungleland Zoo was in dire straits. Only 200 paying customers a day were attending the zoo, 100 short of the 300 ticket sales needed a day to break even. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ticket sales dwindled even further to just 50 attendees a day.
By late 2002, Jungleland Zoo had discounted all items in the gift store by 50% and taken all the animals away from public view. Rumours swirled that the animals, equipment, and caging were all put up for sale by the owners. By October, the attraction closed its doors for good. A note was placed on the gift store window blaming the post 9/11 economy and Channel 6 News and allegedly a copy of the note was sent to the then sitting President, George Bush.
“This treatment by Channel 6 smacks of an old-time lynching”
“Animals do not breed in places they are not comfortable in and all our breeding pairs produce here at Jungleland.”Excerpts from the note taped to the gift store window
In 2014, the 126-foot alligator statue was demolished for safety reasons.
Since its closure, the site has changed ownership several times. Patrick Clancy, owner and founder of Jungle Habitat Preserve, an animal rescue foundation, went on to purchase it, but it fell into foreclosure in 2017. In 2018, Jungleland Zoo Partners purchased it for 1 million dollars. In September 2020 it changed ownership again when it was sold to Krush Acquisitions for 1.3 million dollars. In 2021, Krush Brau Park opened on the site as a German-inspired beer garden, brewery, and live music venue.