By Lisa K. Berton
Some families go camping while others use school vacation time for road trips. My family went to Hialeah, Florida from Boston, Massachusetts by plane. It would be years before my brother arrived or any younger cousins would come into the picture so as the only kid, I was spoiled.
My Uncle Milty was a huge animal lover and so he brought me to the zoo and Parrot Jungle, repeatedly, with my parents, aunt, and sometimes his grown kids as well. From what I remember, the drive down Red Road in Pinecrest took forever. It was lined with towering palm trees that blocked out most of the sunlight. I remember the anticipation building.
Parrot Jungle was lush with tropical plants, grass, a pond filled with pink flamingos, and stone structures that stayed cool in the hot sun. It was where you pretended to be a tree and someone would line your arms and shoulders with blue and gold, and red macaws. Maybe a green parrot would perch on top of your head. Look at the camera! Smile! :sigh: It was awesome. We returned with my little brother a few times. He wanted to be brave like his big sister and tried a parrot or two on for size.
Fear came over me in the summer of 1992 when I learned from my cousins in Florida that Hurricane Andrew impacted Parrot Jungle. From what I can recall, there was severe landscape damage and research tells me it hit the five million dollar mark. Perhaps the destruction was more than I knew about. Parrot Jungle re-opened and tried to recover over the next few years during which plans emerged to move the family attraction over to Watson Island.
I remember arriving at Jungle Island in 2004, which is what Parrot Jungle transformed into after moving beside the MacArthur Casueway as one heads to South Beach. Feeling apprehensive and yet happy at the same time that the animals had a home, albeit now in proximity to traffic, cruise ship ports, and sunbathers. It was so different from before but it was evident that Bern Levine, the owner, brought as much of the old and much-loved Parrot Jungle with him as he could. A pond with flamingos running about, a theater for my favorite bicycle riding cockatoo to perform, and paths lined with chatty birds of every color to hand feed. Pure joy, again and again and again.
Somehow I missed the surprising news that Mr. Levine sold Jungle Island nearly a year ago. Unfortunately, not as many kids grew up going to Parrot Jungle and not enough tourists stopped between South Beach and the city portion of Miami. Jungle Island was in immense dept due to attendance and overhead expenses.
I wish ESJ Capital Partners (and whoever is behind the curtain) all the best with their new plans for zip lines, pools, and water slides. Take excellent care of the feathered, furry, and they- only-look-slimy residents. If they move, put them in safe homes, many of them have been through a lot. Remember that for many of us, it is where we go to talk to the animals and remember those who first introduced us to them.
To Bern, thank you for decades of happiness and your hospitality. I am forever thankful for all you've done for the animals and my family. Did Ellis tell you about the time he caught Sidney mid-air?