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Busch Gardens Tampa – Nairobi:
Myombe Reserve

Rating: * * * *
Type: Ape habitat
Time: Continuous viewing
Short Take: The zoo's crown jewel

Of all the animal habitats at Busch Gardens, this is the hands-down winner. The beautifully imagined setting here would be almost worth the visit without the chimps and gorillas. But it is these fascinating primates that we come to see, and the scenic designers and landscape architects have given them a home that provides plenty of variety for the animals while making it easy for us to spy on them. The achievement is remarkable.

The habitat is divided in two, with the first area given over to a band of nine chimpanzees in a rocky, multi-leveled environment complete with spectacular waterfalls, calm pools, and a grassy forest cleaning with plenty of climbing space. Best of all is a glassed viewing area that allows us to spy on the chimps' private behavior.

Moving through a tunnel, we reach the lowland gorilla habitat. There's a wonderful theatricality to this entrance as we pass through a simulated jungle fog to "discover" the gorillas grazing on our left. Talk about gorillas in the mist! In addition to a glassed viewing area, this habitat features a small amphitheater for extended observation and video cameras tha allow us to observe individuals in the far reaches of the habitat.

Plenty of explanatory information is provided via blackboards (the conceit here is that we are visiting a jungle outpost of a scientific expedition), photos and "field notes" containing tidbits of animal lore posted on signs, and voice-over narration in the hidden viewing area. If you only have time for one zoo exhibit between roller coaster rides, make it this one. The entrance to Myombe Reserve is opposite the Moroccan Palace; the exit leads you into the rest of the Nairobi section.

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