Ron Magill and Zoo Miami have been synonymous for the last four decades, as the communications director became South Florida’s go-to-guy on everything about captive wildlife.
But Magill is publicly splitting with his management on the Miami Wilds theme park that’s been planned for years in the parking lot of the zoo. He took his case to the Anti-Social podcast, explaining how the project threatens a rare forest and its endangered inhabitants.
“That forest is the single most critically endangered habitat in the entire state of Florida,” Magill said.
“It has the highest amount of biodiversity of any habitat in Florida, the highest amount of different species of plants, insects, mammals, reptiles, everything from you know the hairstreak butterfly to the gopher tortoise to the bat.”
Magill appeared on the podcast as a private citizen and not as an ambassador for Zoo Miami because his management has told him and other employees not to speak about the waterpark.
“We’ve been told to shut up. I’m tired of it and I’m putting it all out there,” he said
The apex predator of the adjacent forest is the bonnet bat, the largest bat in North America and a protected endangered species.
Magill said to the casual observer the parking lot during the daytime might seem like another slab of asphalt. But, indeed, the creatures come out at night, using the tree islands of the parking lot as their supermarket, he said.
“That area basically transforms into their Publix,” Magill said. “That’s where they come to get their food.”
The 67-acre waterpark has been in the works for 15 years – and Magill said he even voted for the project before he knew of the forest and its inhabitants. He said he regrets staying silent on another project near the Zoo Miami a decade ago that damaged the surrounding rockland forest in favor of a Wal-Mart shopping center.
“I’m gonna tell you right now I’m ashamed and I’m embarrassed that I did that,” Magill said.
He said zoos need to be about conservation of wildlife – whether in captivity or out in the wild
“And that’s one reason I’m so flipping livid about this waterpark thing, that the zoo has not come out and made a stand,” Magill said.
The zoo, a Miami-Dade County park, would receive about $3 million a year from the project. The Miami-Dade County Commission on Sept. 6 delayed a vote to move the project forward a nearby location..
“At the beginning, I thought this had no chance, but I had to fight for it anyway, out of a matter of principle,” Magill said. “But the tide is changing.”