Environmental conservation in Panama is sturdier. The preservation and presentation of animal life are more common and preferable if done in the wild or their natural habitat, rather than in the artificially made eco- amenities like zoos. This doesn’t mean in Panama you can’t see wildlife in captivity as well.
Yes, Panama is a host to a few facilities that houses a collection of animals, located in gardens or parks, mainly for conservation. However, there are only a few zoos in the entire country.
The country has also many nature parks and tropical forests where tourists can join adventure tours to see animals, birds, and plants in their natural world.
Summit Botanical Gardens
The Summit Botanical Gardens or simply the “Summit” is a 250 hectare-park located inside the Soberania National Park along the lines of the Panama Canal. Founded in 1923 as a research farm for the study of the tropical flora in Panama, the botanical garden now has over 15,000 species of plants.
The Summit also operates a wildlife rescue center that functions as a temporary shelter and treatment facility for injured, bereaved, or ailing wild animals that will later be released back to the wild. The animals in the zoo are a blend of wild and domestic rescues, most of which are considered endangered species, that are incapable to go back to the wilds.
They include tapirs, capybara, anteaters, Neotropical river otter, ocelot, grison, Geoffroy’s spider monkey, caiman, puma, margay, grey fox jaguars, squirrel monkey, and a range of many exotic birds.
One of the highlights of the Summit zoo is the breeding in captivity of the Harpy Eagle (Harpia Harpyja). The eagle which is the national bird of Panama has its own imposing compound.
The summit also features a small eatery, children’s recreational areas, an auditorium for watching presentations and a fauna-breeding center.
El Nispero Zoo
Nestled at the base of Cerro Gaital National Monument, El Nispero is a zoo and botanical garden in a 2.8-hectare lot in Anton Valley. The zoo is unique in Panama because it features animals and birds species from across the world including Asia and Africa like the golden pheasants and white peacocks.
The zoo is also home to some endemic creatures in Panama such as the capuchin, trigillo margay, ocelot, spider monkey, macaws, sloths, and tapir. Except for the riskier animals like the jaguar, visitors can be up close and personal with the animals because the animal cages lack protective railings to demarcate viewing so extra prudence is advised.
One of the major highlights of the zoo is its exhibit of the native Rana Dorada or the Golden Frog. This frog which is rarely seen in the wild is a cultural icon and national symbol of Panama. El Nispero is one of few zoos in Pamana that allows you to see the Golden Frog.
El Nispiro also houses one of the first Panamanian amphibian breeding centers in the country, which is dedicated to the conservation of amphibians in danger of extinction. The center was built as part of the conservation efforts of Panama following the extensive amphibian decline in 2006 caused by the chytrid fungus.
Snuggled in an energetic ecosystem, the El Nispero is hemmed in by foliage with pleasant picnic areas for tourists to eat and relax. You can directly go to see the zoo or join an Anton Valley tour to visit the zoo as part of your itinerary. The zoo is located in El Valle de Anton Cocle.
Raquel’s Ark is another animal rescue center, which serves as a transitory lodging that provides treatment, rehabilitation and care for exotic animals that are injured or abandoned until they get well, stable and ready to be released back to the wild. Raquel’s ark however also serves as the permanent home of other animals that are deemed incapable of surviving in the wild because of their condition.
As a private institution, the rescue center primarily gets funding through donations from private individuals and organizations. It also receives animals in need of rescue on a regular basis. Among the animals that can be seen in the zoo included a Two-toed Sloths, Puma Jaguar, Howler Monkey, Coyote, Owl, Toucan, River Otters, Raccoon, Margay, Kinkajous, and Coatimundi, among others.
Raquel’s Ark also has an Air BnB hotel burrowed in a quiet mountain community of Volcan Baru. It has become a popular temporary lodging for tourists taking a tour of the Volcan in Chiriquí. The place serves as your tropical mountain escape where you can hug a sloth, play with monkeys or serve as your base as you explore the area like the Janson Coffee Farm, Volcan Canopy Park, and the Sitio Barriles, among others.
The Buenaventura zoo is an animal rescue center located in an exclusive beach community that is simultaneously designed as a natural reserve for the sublime satisfaction of its residents. The zoo was established as part of the community’s conservation efforts for the sanctuary of rescued animals that also provides both residents and the public a learning experience about animals.
Located in Calle 4a Buenaventura, El Chirú, Panama, the zoo has become a home to many indigenous animals in Panama. This includes crested caracara with a lost wing, a tayra called Omar and a cockatoo called Zeus. Other animals that can be found in the zoo included a monkey, porcupines, crab-eating raccoons, collared peccaries, pheasants, macaws, parrots, and others. The animal rehab center provides people an opportunity to have a more intimate relationship with animals and nature.
Punta Culebra Nature Center
The Punta Culebra Nature Center (PCNC), is a zoo and aquarium that primarily provides exhibits of marine animals and amphibians. Located in Causeway, it is part of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute that provides people an open-air experience to explore and discover the natural world through science.
The zoo features an exhibit of 200 species of famous frogs from Panama such as the strawberry poison dart frog, Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas), Blueberry poison arrow frog and the iconic golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, among many others. it also has an indoor aquaria that feature fishes, catshark, turtles and other marine creatures like colorful corals and anemones from the Pacific, Caribbean and tropical freshwaters in Panama.
For a more up and close encounter with marine creatures, there are touch pools where you can explore and touch marine invertebrates like starfish, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. Finally, there are walking trails where you can take a hike in the sultry dry jungle where you can encounter animals like sloths, raccoons, iguanas, birds, and armadillos in their natural habitats.
Gamboa Rainforest Resort
Hidden in the numinous Soberania National Park where Chagres River and the Panama Canal congregates is the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. While not a zoo but a luxury hotel, this resort has a sheltered animal sanctuary where guests and visitors can see a small number of animals including amphibians, a jaguar, ocelot, and other creatures. There is a walk-through aviary where you can see exotic birds and a butterfly garden.
The great thing about this place is its eco-adventure where tourists can get to witness bare animals and striking birds in the wild. You can take a hike, ride an aerial tram or take a river cruise to explore the place. Among the animals that you will see freely roaming the rainforest included monkeys, capybaras, agoutis, and over 350 rare species of birds only found in Panama.
If you are fond of seeing monkeys, then a trip to Monkey Island in Lake Gatun is a must when you’re in Panama. Although not a zoo per se, Monkey Island is another place you can visit in Panama where you can find different species of monkeys native to the Central America region in their natural environment.
Among the species of monkey, you can find in the island includes the Geoffroy’s Tamarin Monkey, Mantled Howler Monkey, Black-headed spider monkey, the White-Faced Capuchin Monkey, and the Lemurine owl Monkey, to name a few. If you get lucky, you can also see Neotropical river otters in the area.
What is interesting in this place is that you will see how monkeys are intelligently evolving. Some capuchin monkeys use stones as tools to break nuts and other food. Still, others use sticks to dig. Scientists muse that the limited resources, seasonality, absence of competitors and climatic changes provide an incentive structure for the monkey to develop such complex behavioral patterns.
Why There Are Only a Few Zoos in Panama?
Panama is not a zoo hub compared to other countries especially in the West, which serve as major tourist attractions. Its limited number of zoos primarily serves as wildlife rescue centers rather than facilities for keeping animals for public display.
Aside from the people’s belief that animals have an intrinsic right to liberty, Panama’s wildlife conservation efforts focus on maintaining nature parks where animals and birds naturally thrive in their native ecosystem.
Panama puts emphasis on preserving habitats and species in the wild instead of breeding them in captivity except for certain species that are endangered of going extinct in the wild.
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