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The National Zoo

The National Zoo is an interesting place for many reasons. It is an attraction when looking for a place to visit with family or friends; it has an educational function, as scientific data is collected here; and it is the only place in the country where veterinarian attention and rehabilitation is facilitated for wild animals brought by the public or after seizures.

Its installations are simple and quite rustic due to the little governmental aid that the zoo receives, and there are only few private companies that support the zoo as a form of charity. However, the zoo has remained functioning due to the great enthusiasm of its workers and the National Zoo Friends Foundation (Fundación Amigos del Zoológico Nacional), which is a non-profit organization that manages the zoo and that, for quite a while now, invests time and effort in the search for cooperation to always keep the zoo functioning and open to the public.

This zoo, the largest of the country, houses more than six hundred animal species, with the majority of them being wild animals and some of them pets, in addition to some exotic species from remote locations like Africa and Asia. Some of the animals that can be observed here are species that are threatened with extinction and that are very hard to find in the forests throughout the country.

Learn more about the options that the Nicaraguan Zoo offers the public, as well as the several social projects run by this institution. Not only is it a place worth a visit, but it is also worth voluntary support!

Attractions for the public

The particular ambiance at the National Zoo can be perceived when stepping through the gate. From here the tireless chatter of many parakeet and parrots can be heard, just as the squawking of other birds and an eventual roar from the large cats. From here visitors already feel entering another place, where so many colorful and strange animals can be seen from close by.

The zoo has more than 650 national animal species. Most of them are wild animals, but there are also some pet species. Furthermore, species brought from different corners of the world (Africa, Asia, Australia) can also be seen here, including peacocks, a Bengal tiger, African lions, a mandrill monkey, a playful chimpanzee, a green monkey, several emus, water buffalos, as well as a variety of finches, which are small multi-colored birds.

The public is welcomed by an enormous, loud cage that houses a variety of parrot and parakeet species. There is not a specific recommended route, but visitors can instead wander throughout the zoo as they like.

Close to the entrance, in the first cages, visitors can encounter three toucan species including the colorful Keel-billed Toucan. In another area there is a small pond with several aquatic bird species, and several other pools where caymans and other lizards live in harmony with a variety of fresh water turtles. In the center of the zoo’s installations there is an enormous diamond-shaped cage inhabited by several King Vultures, whose appearance is very colorful for a vulture, featuring white feathers and with black tips and an orange-colored head. They can be seen flying short distances within the cage.

The large cats can be found at the back of the zoo. Several individuals, both male and female, of jaguars, pumas, African lions, and a beautiful Bengal tiger can all be seen. Both observing these majestic cats and hearing their powerful roar is an interesting experience.

There are many different, eye-catching animal species in the zoo. Some other animals that can be mentioned are wild boars, deer, ring-tailed cats, tapirs, falcons, and great curassows. There are even some bird species that wander freely through the zoo, making it possible to see them from close by in a more natural habitat. In addition to the domestic chickens, ducks, and geese there are also curlews and peacocks roaming the zoo.

A small canteen is also available to the public, near the entrance of the zoo, offering different typical food dishes, among other things, as well as sodas and juices. This makes it possible for a group of visitors to organize a lunch here while frequenting the zoo (which should be reserved beforehand).

One of the achievements of the National Zoo has been the reproduction of animals in captivity, which is something that is not easy for any zoo. Here mating of King Vultures, tapirs, ocelots, pumas, jaguars, and even Bengal Tigers has been achieved. The most recent important births were in August 2007 when a pair of pumas and a baby jaguar was born.

The Butterfly and Orchid Gardens

For those that enjoy observing the colorful butterflies and interesting orchids, as well as small birds, the National Zoo has a public tour that leads through the butterfly and the orchid gardens.

Both are located in a central area of the zoo, and they are composed of closed, interconnected areas providing a different ambiance than the rest of the zoo, with the intent to reproduce the natural environment of the butterflies and small birds that live here, as well as the orchid plants. There is an additional fee for entering this area, but it can certainly be an interesting experience.

At the entrance of the butterfly garden there is a small room where a video and an explanation of the butterflies is provided (watching this is voluntarily). Next are the doors to the butterfly garden which has a medium size and houses 17 butterfly species and also four different hummingbird species. The setting is friendly and the area has been surrounded by many plants, including many that are plants used by the butterflies.

Visitors can observe both butterflies and hummingbirds from close by, see them in flight, or enjoy the animals when they are eating from one of the feeders in the cage. Special nectar or a sugar extract is given. It is furthermore possible to see the different shapes and colors of the butterfly pupas (the stage between larvae and adult butterfly) that are kept apart in a housing that protects and controls the animals at this stage.

After passing the butterfly garden there is a small lab where the butterfly larvae are kept and the population is monitored. Birds that need attention are also brought here. Although visitors can not enter this site, it is possible to get a glimpse from the outside through large windows. The lab is located at the point where the butterfly garden and the orchid garden are connected.

This orchid garden is, similarly, a closed area in a natural environment, but it is larger than the butterfly garden and here it are plants and many small, colorful birds that can be seen, varying from Australian finches to national fauna, including birds that normally only live in forested areas. There is also an artificial waterfall providing a relaxing sound in the background, and a small tank that houses aquatic plants, river turtles, small fish and a ‘gaspar’, which is a curious fish considered to be a living fossil due to its remarkable anatomy.

Education and the library

The National Zoo also plays an important educative and scientific role, and some services related to these roles are described below.

Among the options is a guided tour (only in Spanish) of the zoo. Medium or large groups often use this service, and it is also provided on a regular basis to groups from primary and secondary schools, and even universities. During the tour visitors receive an explanation, cage by cage, about the animals, their current state, their habitat, and more. Videos and printed material is also used.

The zoo has a small library where posters, general literature about biology, and examples of student monographs that took the zoo into consideration are found. The books can be interesting for general or even more specific scientific nature studies.

Similarly, another specialized service that the zoo offers is related to veterinary medicine. The zoo opens its door for veterinary students, aiming at arranging a deal of mutual benefit. There are already several university faculties that have such agreements, and any other interested institution can contact the university’s administration.

The National Zoo offers free visits, coordinated with social organizations, to children living in an impoverished situation, handicapped children, or other vulnerable groups.

Located on the outskirts of the capital city, in the municipality of Ticuantepe, the zoo can easily be accessed via the Managua-Masaya road. A large signboard indicates the entrance. It is possible to reach the place in private transportation or by using the public transportation that travel along this road.

The National Zoo has a strict regimen when it comes to maintaining the safety of its visitors and its animals. The rules follow below:

  • Do not trespass the barred areas, and make sure children do not do this either.
  • Do not feed the animals, as they have a balanced diet that should be respected.
  • Do not run within the complex; this can alter the behavior of the animals.
  • Do not screen within the zoo; this can alter the animal behavior as well.
  • It is not permitted to enter the zoo with food. Use of skaters is not allowed either.
  • No objects of any kind can be given to the animals, let alone thrown towards their cage.

Practical Details

The Zoo is located at Kilometer 16 of the Managua-Masaya road.
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, from 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM (closed on Mondays)
Phone: (505) 279 8806 - (505) 279 8782.
Entrance fee: C$15
Entrance fee butterfly and orchid garden: C$15

The people behind the National Zoo

The ambiance and the nature of the work at the National Zoo cause its employees a special affection and dedication, as described by Marina Argüello, current director of the National Zoo. This unique spirit is what moves the Foundation of Friends of the Nicaraguan Zoo as well as the zoo’s personnel.

The zoo is attended by a staff of 30 workers, consisting of the administration, vets, educators, security staff, and maintenance workers. The interest aspect is that on occasion every one of them works in areas outside his or her regular tasks, all within the spirit of “getting the things done”. Eventually some workers had to be let go as they did not develop the necessary sensibility for the animals and their maintenance, according to the Director.

The Foundation of Friends of the Nicaraguan Zoo is a not-for-profit organization who is in charge of the zoo since 1997. Its director is the veterinarian Eduardo Sacasa, and its principal promoter his wife, Marina. In addition to its staff, the foundation also counts with support from companies that provide food, medicine, publicity, and some funds for maintenance of the hundreds of animals that inhabit the zoo. All together, they achieve to keep the zoo open and running every day for national and international public.

Through the zoo, the foundation has taken charge of educating the surrounding communities regarding hunting and maltreatment of wild animals. This has included, for example, puppet shows for the children in which the effects of maltreatment of animals for fun were discussed. Another social job of the zoo and the foundation has been to introduce rehabilitated animals back into their natural environment.

The Rescue Center

In 1998 the National Zoo became the official center for animals that were maltreated or confiscated from vendors or traffickers by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA). Similarly, the zoo opened its doors for any animal that needed attention, brought in by any person. This way, the zoo has developed an important role in the country as a veterinary institution. The zoo is frequently called upon for such services.

Animals that come in are generally attended in three phases: medical attention, rehabilitation, and once recovered are prepared for their reintroduction in a compatible habitat. All of these tasks, realized voluntarily by the zoo, require an investment in time and money.

Sometimes the zoo receives hundreds of animals at once, confiscated by MARENA, or some brought in very bad conditions by third persons. Most of these animals are fortunately liberated after recovering, mostly in the community of Cárdenas (in Rivas), the Momotombito island in Lake Managua, and in the Masaya Volcano National Park.

Supporting the National Zoo

According to the administration of the zoo, the budget from the State provides less than half of the required amount to run the institution as it should be run. Thanks to donations received from companies and individuals (in the form of animal food, meat, medicine, cash, and other supplies) the zoo has some more available resources. However, this is not enough. The National Zoo needs more support to achieve improvement of its installations, enhancing the service, and set up new projects. hereby openly calls for visitors from Nicaragua or any other country to find enthusiasts that can help the National Zoo and to collect donations to improve the conditions of this interesting and important institution.

There are several ways to help the zoo, either for companies or individuals. Below follow some of the options.

Adopt an animal. Any person or company can “adopt” an animal living in the zoo. This consists of providing resources to maintain this specific animal. The zoo has a catalogue with details about the animals available for adoption and what is required for their maintenance. This way, donors can support a certain species directly.

Donate supplies. The zoo requires an important share of its funding for supplies, so donating supplies is another option that can greatly benefit. Fruits, animal concentrates, meat, medicine, materials, and other supplies are all needed.

Perform voluntary work. The various tasks that make the zoo function can benefit from support from people willing to volunteer. Vets, technicians, or other people can help the zoo by donating their time and effort, and with it gain a great experience.

Help generate projects. Improvement of the infrastructure, social projects, image building… any person with a creative idea can come to the zoo to propose any plan that can be of benefit, and look for helping hands for execution together with the foundation.

To support the zoo in any of these forms, of the consult about other ways to help, be sure to contact the zoo (see contact information above).

Through this message, would like to recognize and thank the people directly and indirectly involved with the National Zoo, for their support and their efforts to make the functioning of this institution possible.

Information in this section was obtained through a guided visit to the Zoo, an interview with its director, and corroboration of information provided by the PR section of MARENA. We thank Marina Argüello for all the information that was provided, the staff that received us, and special thanks go to Tatiana Terán (veterinarian) and Xóchilt Picado (biologist), who oriented us within the zoo and the butterfly garden.