The gardens were created by the Panama Canal Company in 1923 for the study of tropical plants. One source says that the gardens were a place to reproduce and distribute tropical plants. No matter their original purpose, the gardens are home to some 4,000 plants!
In 1985 the gardens were returned to the Panamanians. It is not clear when the zoo was added. Some of the animals have been rescued from poachers or other illegal wild life trading schemes. As far as we can tell, there is no program in place yet to rehabilitate such animals and return them to their natural habitat.
The guide books suggest that there has been steady decline in the upkeep of the gardens and zoo over the years. We were warned that the cages might be small and that we might be disturbed by some of the conditions of the animals and their enclosures.
Sarah and I were pleasantly surprised to find that for the most part, that although the cages were small, the animals seemed well cared for and that the contents of the enclosures gave the appearance of replicating the animals’ habitat. There were some sad and injured animals, but seeing the veterinary clinic assured us that someone would take care of them.
The Summit Zoo website indicates that the Botanical Gardens and Zoo are under new leadership. “The transformation of Summit Park has initiated. Our fond memories speak of a botanical garden, a zoo and a recreational park. Summit continues to be all of these and at the same time prepares to take on a new role: The conservation of Panama’s species in peril and the commitment to research and investigation of Panama’s biodiversity.”
That all said, we did get to see animals that we may never see in the wild.