Flashback: Jungle Island, Circa 1936

December 19, 2013 | by juliet izon | Talk of the Town

Jungle Island
A woman posing with macaws at Parrot Jungle (now Jungle Island). The attraction celebrates 77 years in Miami this December.

Five days before Christmas in 1936, Franz Scherr opened the gates to Parrot Jungle, in what is now Pinecrest, a place where he envisioned birds of all colors and varieties could “fly free.” For just 25 cents admission, guests were treated to winding nature trails and Scherr discussing his beloved flora and fauna. Three years later, the first bird show was produced, featuring Pop, a charming macaw who could do a variety of tricks for guests. The singularity of the park and its inhabitants began to draw notables from around the world; even Winston Churchill paid a visit in 1946. By the 1960s, the flying performers were the centerpiece of the Jungle, and one of its stars, Pinky the bicycle-riding cockatoo, would go on to become one of the most photographed avians in history.

The next decades would bring more international recognition (the flamingos in the opening credits to Miami Vice lived here) as well as a major move in 1999 to Watson Island, where the attraction reopened as Parrot Jungle Island in 2003, before changing its name to the current Jungle Island four years later. Today, in addition to birds, visitors are treated to creatures as diverse as tigers, lemurs, and orangutans. The park was even registered as a historic location within Miami-Dade in 1995.

Jungle Island is more than just a zoo, however; it is integral to the fabric of the city. Each year the park donates more than $600,000 worth of tickets to raise money for charities (from Make-A-Wish Foundation to Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida), and the move to Watson Island generated around 600 jobs for local residents. It’s no wonder around 450,000 visitors come yearly to be enthralled by this veritable Noah’s Ark. Talk about an urban jungle.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY

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