Jungle Gardens offers wonderful attractions that will appeal to nature lovers, bird watchers and any visitor interested in experiencing the beauty of nature and abundant wildlife in a pristine, tranquil setting.
In 1936, Jungle Gardens founder E. A. McIlhenny (affectionately known as “Mr. Ned”) received a magnificent Buddha statue as a surprise gift from two of his friends in New York City. After discovering the statue in a Manhattan warehouse (where it had sat unclaimed for years), they shipped it to Mr. Ned by rail - hoping that it would find a suitable home among the Asian flora of his gardens.
Mr. Ned created a beautiful shrine set within an opulent garden for the Buddha, which is said to be more than 900 years old. The Buddha quickly became a focal point for visitors and still serves as a centerpiece at the Gardens. In recent years, the shrine has become an active place of worship for local Buddhists, who conduct a number of ceremonies there throughout the year - most notably on Buddha’s birthday.
This famous rookery began as a bird colony that was founded by Mr. Ned in the 1890s. Alarmed by local plume hunters who were killing thousands of egrets to use their feathers for ladies’ hats, he gathered up eight young snowy egrets and raised them in an aviary or “flying cage” that he built on Avery Island. Mr. Ned released the birds in the fall to migrate across the Gulf of Mexico - and was delighted when six of the birds (and their mates) returned to nest in the spring.
Thus began a pattern in which each year, more and more snowy white egrets and other water birds joined the migration to and from the bird colony. Sixteen years after the colony was founded, in March of 1911, Mr. Ned estimated that one hundred thousand birds were nesting in what had by then become known as Bird City. This vast, protected rookery and the thousands of birds it shelters owe their existence to the conservation efforts of Mr. Ned.
Photo credit: Pam Mclhenny
While Jungle Gardens is well known as a refuge for the snowy egret and many other bird species, it also supports a wide variety of other wildlife. Most notably, visitors may catch a glimpse of the alligators, deer and raccoons that live in the hills and marshes around the Gardens. Over the years, Avery Island and the surrounding coastal marshlands have also supported species including black bears, wild cats, coyotes, armadillos, rabbits, otters, muskrats and many others - although some of these animals no longer inhabit the island.
Bird watchers will find Jungle Gardens a sight to behold - and we encourage all those interested to make a reservation for our Bird Tour. Species commonly found at Jungle Gardens include many varieties of songbirds and herons, as well as ducks, geese, coots, wading birds and many more.
During his youth, E.A. McIlhenny and his friends had no fear of the alligators that inhabited the ponds on Avery Island - except for the one they called “ol’ Monsurat.” Monsurat was the largest alligator ever taken on the island, at eighteen feet three inches long.
As far as anyone knows, E. A. and his friends did not choose the name “Monsurat” for any particular reason, though some believe it an allusion to the Louisiana French word monstre, or “monster.” Ultimately, the name likely derives from the Catalan montserrat, meaning “jagged mountain” - certainly an apt description of Monsurat’s back as it protruded above the surface of the dark waters.
Jungle Gardens includes one of the oldest timber bamboo groves in America. Through Edward McIlhenny's relationship with the USDA, he planted over sixty-four varieties of bamboo in and around Jungle Gardens. His ability to nurture and observe the plants made him the most successful experimental bamboo grower in the country, and his views about the usefulness of bamboo have been revived by modern permaculturalists around the globe.
Photo credit: Pam Mclhenny