Zoo Miami has a terrific giraffe exhibit which allows visitors to feed the graceful animals. The experience is even better if Ron Magill happens to be there, giving kids an impromptu lesson in giraffe anatomy.
"They have a tongue that is over 14 inches long, and you want to see that tongue? Watch this, ohhhh, you see that?" Magill says in his inimitable, over the top fashion, unable to contain his enthusiasm.
That energy is contagious, and Magill has this glorious passion for educating people about wildlife after 40 years as Zoo Miami's public face.
"What I do sometimes on a daily basis is the kind of stuff you see raffled off in silent auctions," Magill says with a chuckle. "I tell people all the time, when you get paid to do things that people pay to do, you're incredibly lucky."
Magill has traveled the world on wildlife expeditions, from Alaska to Africa to Antarctica to the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands and India and more. Wherever he goes, he uses his camera to bring the experiences home. His photography is so good, Magill is a Nikon Ambassador.
[MI GALLERY] Through the Lens of Zoo Miami's Ron Magill
"My favorite saying in the world is life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, it's measured by the number of times your breath is taken away, and when I can show someone an image and they go oohhhh! and it takes their breath away, it's as close as I can get to taking their hand and bringing them to the place with me," Magill said.
In four decades, Magill has seen a metamorphosis at the zoo. The old location at Crandon Park had cramped animal prison cells with bars.
Zoo Miami's spacious exhibits mimic natural habitats. The latest addition, Mission: Everglades, houses alligators, black bears, a Florida panther, crocodiles, and other animals native to South Florida.
"And that's really important because I think one of the big, important messages zoos have to show is think globally but act locally and we need to show people in South Florida what we have in our own back yard," Magill said.
The zoo's mission has also evolved. It goes way beyond just displaying animals. Magill says the goal now is to inspire environmental conservation.
"Zoos are providing these windows into the world to plant a seed in kids to understand the importance of protecting wildlife all over the world because we're all connected, it's no longer just looking at an animal like you look at an animal in a circus, it's looking at an animal as an ambassador for an environment that is a link in the chain for the quality of life for all of us," Magill explained.
With his regular appearances on national and international television and radio shows over the years, Magill has raised eco-awareness and the profile of Zoo Miami. But he says he's most proud of his Ron Magill Conservation Endowment, which provides tens of thousands of dollars every year directly to environmental field work.
"I know if I leave here and die tomorrow, that forever, for the foreseeable future, money is gonna go to conservation through that endowment, that is what I want my legacy to be," Magill said. "If we are not putting money to protect the animals in the wild that we choose to exhibit here, we're being hypocrites."
You can donate to the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment through www.zoomiami.org.