Before There Was Zoo Miami, There Was Crandon Park Zoo

CBS4 photojournalist Raphael Murciano shares the story.

Video Transcript

KEITH JONES: Welcome back. We bring you a special trip down memory lane, especially if you're from South Florida. The Crandon Park Zoo in Key Biscayne first opened in 1948, and was eventually replaced by the current Zoo Miami, in southwest Miami-Dade.

CBS4 photojournalist Rafael Murciano, with the help from Zoo Miami Communications Director Ron Magill, take a nostalgic look back.

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RON MAGILL: Working at the Crandon Park Zoo, for me, was just an unbelievable dream come true.

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There was a wide variety of animals here. You know, you had Primate Row, where we had gelada baboons, chimpanzees, going down to the gibbons, swimming in the big area. There was big cat area, where you saw the tigers and the lions together. Then there was a mound where we had the big crocodile pit-- saltwater crocodiles.

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Towards the end of the zoo was where we had our big giraffe barn. You see the giraffe walking out there, along the big palm trees. And at the very end were elephants.

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I was 20 years old when I started here. This zoo was always very busy, because Key Biscayne, in and of itself, is a huge attraction. People come here to see the beautiful beach, Crandon Park, and you know, they try to make it an all-in-one trip. This park, in and of itself, was stunning.

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This place really was a tourist destination. And it was a gorgeous, gorgeous park. You know, one of the things I remember very clearly is the little train-- and we had a little red train that went around the zoo. There was the pot of gold out in the old children's zoo, that actually now is down at Zoo Miami.

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Back then, there were things that were done that would be absolutely unheard of today. You had people taking out big cats, and petting them, and you know, looking at them more as an attraction-- as a pet.

Things like the cages seem so much smaller. And I say to myself, good Lord, how did we actually keep such majestic animals, like tigers, and bears, and chimpanzees, in these horrible little cages? It's so disheartening to me that we actually kept animals that way. But it was all an evolution, of growing, and learning, and what was best for the animals.

You know, originally zoos were simply attractions, where they displayed animals. Now, zoos have become conservation organizations, where you want to show not just the animal, but the environment.

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One of the biggest things about Zoo Miami is, first of all, you know, when we first opened we were considered to be one of the first cage-less zoos in the United States. They're kept out on natural exhibits-- beautiful grass, beautiful trees, wide open areas. This all offers the animal more of its natural environment. We have to provide a window into the world of not just the animal, but the environment that it lives in, so we can inspire people to protect it.

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You know, coming back here now-- I think it's like when you go back to your childhood home, when you were a little tiny kid. This park became kind of a bird sanctuary. They call it Crandon Gardens.

But what we have here is a wide variety of animals. First of all, there are a lot of leftovers from the Crandon Park days. We've got a plethora of iguanas running around-- some of them remnants from the old Crandon Park Zoo days.

I'm so happy to see that they've preserved the park as a garden, so that people can come through here, and feel a little bit of the beauty that we felt 40, 45 years ago, walking through here-- how beautiful this park was, and will remain.

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KEITH JONES: That was before my time. I had no idea. I love the education, though.

Crandon Gardens, inside Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, is a popular tourist destination. Wonderful place for locals to check out, and certainly bring their kids. It's open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week.