Villager Ventures: The Elmvale Jungle Zoo

By Hillary Handy

If you are new to the area and find yourself driving along Simcoe County Rd 27 towards Elmvale, it is pretty hilarious and shocking to see cows roaming the farm fields…and then the long necks of the giraffes next door. The Elmvale Jungle Zoo is a somewhat unexpected sighting, if you did not know about it! But it’s a magical place! And while Elmvale is technically on the outer periphery of our Orillia/Severn/Oro-Medonte reader radius, this is still a fantastic destination you need to visit this summer and only a stone’s throw away. Parents, Grandparents and Babysitters unite! This is a wonderful outing for children of virtually all ages, but especially younger ones. 

The Elmvale Jungle Zoo is run by the Persi Family, who purchased the property in 1972. The zoo was originally established in 1967 and is celebrating 57  years this year! I used to frequent the zoo weekly with my season’s pass when I had a toddler and a newborn. This is one of the only zoos I know of that have food for purchase so you can feed the animals. It’s quite remarkable to be able to feed a giraffe a banana…with their super long tongue coming right for you! This was always one of our favourite morning outings, providing educational stimulation outdoors in the fresh air, while walking (or toddling) and then you could head home for nap time. We also met up with other families allowing us to enjoy a playdate and an outing.Those were the good old days! I had the perfect zoo route and knew where everything was.  But I recently realized, I had not been to the zoo since probably 2020 when the world went wild. So it was time to return and we have gone twice so far this summer!

I feel a sense of loyalty and affinity for this zoo as some members of the staff are Deaf and use ASL to communicate. I have Deaf family and always love to see members of the Deaf community and support their endeavors. I developed a connection with some of the staff over the years, who would offer me their wealth of knowledge of the various animals and the species.

During the pandemic, the zoo was required to make some facility updates such as one-way trails, but this has prompted the expansion and further development of the space. There are new animals and enclosures, with more coming soon, like hyenas! One of the biggest changes to date was the loss of Maria Persi, who passed away in April 2023. Maria was the heart of the zoo and her legacy lives on through her children Mike and Michel who run the day-to-day operations and her grandchildren who also work at the zoo and have a love for wildlife. It truly is a family affair. While there are changes and upgrades being done constantly, the family and staff remain loyal to their vision and mission, caring deeply for the animal residents at their zoo, educating audiences about the species and the importance of protecting endangered species and conservation.

Now I am aware there are always differing opinions on zoos or facilities that house wildlife, but this Villager is a firm believer in education, celebrating wildlife and can report that she LOVES the Elmvale Jungle Zoo. The property is wheelchair and stroller accessible, with wide clear paths and lots of natural tree coverage and shade. There are clean bathrooms and picnic tables for snacking. Little legs are able to walk the zoo as it is a manageable distance between each animal enclosure. Honestly, the Elmvale Jungle Zoo is the best. There’s nowhere else like it in our area and dare I say, anywhere else!

Add the Elmvale Jungle Zoo to your Summer Bucket List and help celebrate 57 years in the community!