Zoological Wildlife Foundation provides close-up interaction with exotic animals

Posted November 8, 2016


If you like animals, you will fall in love with the Zoological Wildlife Foundation. It offers visitors the unique opportunity to get up close and personal with exotic animals from around the world.


Josefina Moni, 20, a student at the University of Michigan, with Oliver, a monkey who lives at ZWF (Photos by Katy Vidaurreta).

The Zoological Wildlife Foundation, located about 30 miles southwest of downtown Miami, is a center for exotic animals that either lived in a zoo that is shutting down or could no longer be cared for by their previous owners.

ZWF offers tours to visitors varying from a general golf cart tour to baby tiger encounters. It is also involved with many international conservation projects, including: Niassa Carnivore Project, International Rhino Foundation, Cheestah Conservation Botswana, Zambian Carnivore Programme, ZAA.

ZWF aims to educate on conservation practices in an effort to protect animals that face the risk of extinction. It does this through donations and the Hall Family Wildlife Conservation Fund. The team of eight employees is led by Mario Tabraue, the president, director and founder of ZWF. Employee jobs range from hospitality duties to tour guides, all of whom are extremely devoted to ZWF’s cause.

Sofia Waterhouse, 20, a student at the University of Miami, holding an alligator who lives at ZWF.

Sofia Waterhouse, 20, a student at the University of Miami, holding an alligator who lives at ZWF.

“I had high expectations for my trip to the Zoological Wildlife Foundation and every single one of them were met and more during my visit,” said Sofia Waterhouse, 20, a student at the University of Miami. “I chose the tiger cub encounter and the relationship between the cub and tour guide, Kyle, was amazing. I admire the commitment that the staff has to the conservation of wildlife and would definitely visit the center again.”

Selecting Your Tour

There are numerous packages available for visits. All tours take place between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and are available seven days a week.

The most popular package is the General Wildlife Experience. This includes a tour of the five acre facility and interactions with reptiles, primates, small mammals and birds of prey. The tour costs $85 per adult and $45 for children between the ages of 4 and 17. It lasts about one hour, which primarily takes place in a covered sit-down area then wraps up with a golf cart ride around the facility. During the tour, guests are given the opportunity to feed camels and monkeys.

The most fascinating group of packages are the encounters. Given the choice of playing with a jaguar cub, tiger cub, leopard cub, sloth or owl, making a decision is nearly impossible. Prices range from $120 to $300. These encounters are most commonly paired with the general tour since the actual encounter only lasts around 15 to 20 minutes.

Note that tours are not private but your party may be the only reservation at that time, in which case you will be given a private tour.

Getting to ZWF

All reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance and can be made on the foundation’s easy- to- navigate website or by phone. All visits are by appointment only since space is limited.

Josefina Moni, 20, a student at the University of Michigan, photographed with a tiger cub and a ZWF tour guide named Kyle.

Josefina Moni, 20, a student at the University of Michigan, photo-graphed with a tiger cub and a ZWF tour guide named Kyle.

The foundation is located north of Homestead, Fla. The foundation is literally down the beaten path as it is located down a dirt road off a main road, which can be difficult to find.

About half a mile down the road, you will find a dead end at a massive wooden gate with a call box. At the call box, you give the name your reservation was made under and you are let onto the property. There is plenty of parking that is easy to find and located close to the visitors center, where you will be greeted by your tour guide and begin your tour.

Conservation Projects

ZWF is involved in various efforts to promote the conservation of wildlife. The center has chosen a select few causes to support through guest fees and private donations. Among these are:

  • The Niassa Carnivore Project aims to promote coexistence with lions in the wild. The mission of the Mozambique based project is to educate the public of the dangers that lions face. According the The Hall family ZAA Wildlife Conservation Fund, which also supports the organization, there are only 35,000 wild lions left in the world today who are under constant attack by hunters. The fund also reported that the biggest threat against these African wild dogs are human interaction.
  • The International Rhino Foundation is devoted to the survival of the rhino species. The foundation aims to help the species through conservation and research. All five rhino species are under attack. They are threatened by forest loss, poaching, habitat conversion and by newly created human settlements near rhino populations. IRF is dedicated protect rhinos and their habitats.
  • Cheetah Conservation Botswana aims to conserve the wild cheetah population of Botswana. The foundation began in 2003 with the intention of educating the public on the threats faced by the cheetahs of Botswana. One of the foundations greatest challenges in funding is changing public perception of the animal, which is seen as dangerous in the eyes of many people in Botswana. Through education, the foundation hopes to change that and encourage people to support its cause.
  • The Zambian Carnivore Programme is dedicated to the conservation of large carnivore species. The program is a nonprofit run in Zambia, one of the most wildlife rich and diverse countries in Africa. With many carnivores calling Zambia land home, the foundation sees the importance of protecting these animals and conserving their species.
  • ZAA stands for Zoological Association of America, which is “a professional trade organization that provides zoological accreditation for its members.”

ZWF’s Awards

The center has won the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 3 years in a row, beginning in 2014. The award highlights ZWF’s hospitality and was awarded to the center because of its amazing reviews by visitors. It was also ranked the fourth best zoo in the United States and the ninth best zoo in the world based on feedback from travelers on TripAdvisor.

If You Go

  • ZWF is located at 16225 SW 172nd Ave., Miami, Fla. 33187.
  • You can contact ZWF by phone at 305-969-3696.
  • Note that it is very important to make an appointment at least 24 hours in advance to be allowed onto the property.