My First Coast
The Jacksonville Zoo executive director chats with us about tiger encounters, warty pigs, giant armadillos and the original Jacksonville jaguar.
Since Vecchio came on board in 2009, the Jacksonville Zoo has become a top 20 zoo in the country with nearly 1 million annual visitors. With a master’s degree in science and biology, he’s worked for zoos from Oregon to Pennsylvania to Atlanta. He’s wild for giant armadillos and the warty pig.
What makes your zoo different?
The fact that we’re a zoo and garden and just how beautiful it is. I’ve never been to a zoo where the gardens are so integrated in the zoo as they are here.
What are the zoo’s highlights?
The Land of the Tiger is now a year-and-ahalf old. There’s never been another exhibit like it. It’s beautiful. And it’s an important exhibit as far as working with numerous endangered species. The way we display the tigers is absolutely overwhelming. We’ve created this trail system that winds through the entire visitor area around the back of the other two tiger exhibits and goes over the visitors’ heads. You can be anywhere in the area and see a tiger go by.
Did Jacksonville’s NFL team influence your award-winning jaguar exhibit?
Coincidentally, the zoo has been famous for their jaguars since the 1960s. At one time the zoo had the only black jaguar in captivity. And all the black jaguars in zoos currently are descended from the animal that was here at this zoo. Right now we have the largest collection of jaguars of any zoo in the country. Our zoo is into jaguars in a big way.
What animal do you relate to most?
We have one pig in particular that’s a very important species we work with called the Visayan warty pig. The reason I like this pig so much is that every year at the end of breeding season, the males go bald. I can laugh and cry with them.