Queen of the Jungle Maria Tabraue

Eyes on her kingdom

Mother, Boss Lady and Queen of the Jungle Maria Tabraue have entered 2021 with a new style, same mission and a desire to change the world through educating the public about rare and endangered animal species in captivity and in the wild.

From her role as CO-PRESIDENT & DIRECTOR of Zoological Wildlife Miami to her growing presence in the fashion world and some surprise projects in the works, she is a force to reckoned with. Soon the world will know her name and she is just getting started.

Watch this space!

Everyone has had their series of firsts in their lives, when did your love for animals began?

 My love of animals and in particular exotic species goes back to Age 10 when I remember watching Mutual of Omaha with my father every Sunday surrounded by my pet chickens. Yes, even as a little girl animal and the connection between humans & animals gave me a feeling of contentment and lit a fire inside me of creativity, curiosity and excitement.  We would watch in awe together and I would get lost in the adventures of the wildlife and it truly was the very beginning of my dream of one day not only visiting Africa and opening my own park.

My father used to laugh but supported that little girls dream to think large and outside the box. It is amazing to think that those defining moments were the foundation of what was to come in my future.


Photographer | Christopher Logan
Photographer Assistant | Shayne Argüelles
Glam | Dunia Rivero
Retouch | Nataly Trach
Shot on Location | ZWF Miami

Creative Director | Matt Dillon

————————————- Dress | LOUIS VUITTON

If you were to name the biggest influences you have in your life, who would they be?

 My belief is everyone teaches you something that passes through your life big or small in impact but no one enters your life by mistake so take each interaction and savour it (the good and the bad) and learn from each of these.

 I think it goes without saying but my father was by far one of the greatest inspirations to me not only as a child but into womanhood he has consistently supported, pushed me towards greatness and has been there every step of the way. He taught me to be an independent woman that education was key in furthering life. I think of my developmental years as somewhat of a boot camp; the boot camp of life and I am eternally grateful to my father for allowing me to live in my truth, never fear my dreams and being there for me no matter what.

My second greatest influence would have to be my partner in Zoological Wildlife Foundation; Mario Tabraue. After a myriad of life challenges and obstacles for both of us we united in the common thread of a fresh start and a second lease on life and with our passion and love for exotic animals we created ZWF and overtime have turned it into the park it is today. 2021 will be a major year for our partnership and all I can say is watch this space for everything that is to come.

Shirt | Louis Vuttion Nail | Jessica Funes Ring | Robert procop

Has it always been a lifelong dream to work with animals? What would have been your secondary chosen career path if you had not of founded ZWF Miami?

I consider myself to be a Queen of all trades and have multiple creative fires burning.

Animals have always been my passion, but I feel like with my eye on the prize precision approach I would have made a great lawyer. They do say never though.

I do have a slew of new projects coming up from further development at ZWF Miami including a retail component, e-commerce and on the personal side, I have started developing my memoirs. Never can be too busy.

If you were to dole out advice to your 21-year-old – self what would it be?

I would not change anything! Life has been a wild ride (and I am not just talking about the animals) but it has led me to the position I am in now and the future looks bright.

I would tell that young woman to live your dreams, make those dreams happen and live life to the fullest. Enjoy the ride it will be a crazy one, but it is an awesome one that’ll see childhood dreams become a reality like you never could’ve imagined.

How are you able to balance family life and the meticulous life of running a wildlife park?

 The reality of finding balance is sometimes tough but I do believe that in mastering the art of juggling multiple projects and wearing several hats you can work towards a clearer and more defined life in terms of multi-tasking and making quick decisions on the go.

A work /life balance is key in terms of being present across all sectors of your life comes with time and trial and error – do not be afraid to make mistakes and pick yourself up and keep on the path.

Balance starts within and by this, I mean respecting and disconnecting so you have ‘Me’ time. At the start of my day, I wake up 1 hour before anyone from my team arrives at the offices and journal. Being able to put thoughts, issues, concerns etc. in my journal so they take a physical form allows my mind to disconnect and address anything that is laying heavy on me. This time usually turns into meditation and it truly is the greatest and most meaningful gift I give myself daily. Self-praise and affirmation are key to a happy life for yourself and those around you.

Dress |  Louis Vuitton Nail | Jessica Funes Ring | Robert procop

Now moving on, when it comes to the conception of ZWF, what was the experience of opening a wildlife sanctuary from the very beginning like?

My partner in ZWF Mario Tabraue and I had been running Zoological imports while at the same time I was attending school finishing a professional management degree and working my full-time job. The crossroads moment came, and I decided to give everything to Zoological imports which in turn led us down the path to moving closer to what you now know today.

We wanted to expand and started looking for property & it was here that we found what would be the home of ZWF – an old horse ranch that needed a lot of work but with vision and forethinking we knew that anything was possible.

The process, in the beginning, was a little-by-little approach and I loved working on all aspects including the design component from roads to the enclosures and tiki’s – everything was a project and we worked a day in day out to see it become a reality.

Our first animal ambassadors who started the journey with us were gipsy (black leopard) and love of my life, a white-handed gibbon & a white face capuchin – Panchito. The OG’s of ZWF.

What makes ZWF unique from its other counterparts? And what is the long-term goal of the foundation?

ZWF is unique for our clients who come from near and far as they have a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet, interact, engage, and learn by one-on-one encounters and experiences about exotic animals.

The park itself is an escape from reality from the minute you enter the gates you will be transported to a faraway land of your dreams. For an animal lover, this is the ultimate playground, and the educational takeaways help spread the word about the amazing work my team and I are doing daily.

On a personal note, living on the property, I have realized that childhood dream of living and breathing alongside the wild animals we care for day and night. That is how I got the title Queen of the Jungle – it is amazing and there is a never a dull day at the ‘Office’.

In a year I would like for all walks of life from abroad to return post-COVID-19, expand and have our Storefront on-site open for customers and in line with the gift store launch our E-commerce site so the world can enjoy ZWF and all it has to offer from wherever you are in the world.

Jumpsuit | Mazzoni Clutch | Alexander McQueen Nail | Jessica Funes

There are a lot of people who believe that animals shouldn’t be kept in cages, and a lot of zoos globally have that reputation of maltreating animals, what do you think can be done to stop this.

People will always have their own opinion but our animals at ZWF receive first-class care. We have a medical staff that comes every week, weight is taken, medication and looks at each individually to ensure a long and healthy life something an animal in the wild would not have. The possibilities of an animal at ZWF living longer than those in the wild is a reality and it is our mission to give them the best of everything; our animals are our ambassadors and moreover family to each one of us.

Allot of our animals are rescued including our white lions from Africa who were saved from canned hunting. We believe in saving the animals from extinction and it’s been amazing to see them thrive in the atmosphere created at ZWF.

Our team and management have studied the way of living in the wild and replicated it to accommodate from the sounds of waterfalls, the landscaping, habitats and more we are a slice of heaven and a home to a myriad of happy, healthy and intriguing exotic animals.

During Covid-19, a lot of establishments had to close, how did ZWF deal and adapt despite the ongoing situation?

We refused to give up and stayed positive as we have an obligation to our animals to maintain, enrich and keep life moving. It was an opportunity to find the balance in projects and really focus and adapt through social media to reach people who needed some hope, a smile, and some animal goodness to keep them going. Taking our encounters online via facetime and zoom seemed crazy at the time but was a lifeline during the world crisis.

We have some amazing contributors who helped through the peak of COVID-19, as well as government assistance that allowed us to keep operations moving when we had to close down during the peak of COVID-19.

I also must give a shoutout to our amazing staff and volunteers who stepped up and showed up during one of the toughest times and kept our animals feeling loved, enriched and engaged. We are a family unit and look out for each other.

Dress |  Louis Vuitton Nail | Jessica Funes Ring | Robert procop

What are your thoughts on the climate change crisis? What do you think could massively impact our ecosystems and the species who live in it?

The Climate crisis is something that is having a major impact on the life span of animals in the wild. The U.N. reported 1 million species of animals and plants to face extinction due to climate change and human activity. I believe parks and facilities like ZWF are going to be defined as game-changers in the long term as we are working to save these animals from extinction and via breeding programs, we can make physical & long-term change in these statistics.

From De-Forestation which has been negatively affecting natural ecosystems, biodiversity, and the climate ultimately limiting the animal’s reproduction opportunities and ultimately their long-term health and wellness to the Polar Ice Caps melting the situation is something dire and very real. When there is less sea ice, animals that depend on it for survival must adapt or perish. Loss of ice and melting permafrost spells trouble for polar bears, walruses, arctic foxes, snowy owls, reindeer, and many other species. As they are affected, so too are the other species that depend on them, in addition to people.

ZWF is leading the way in an important movement for the future preservation of these endangered species. In 20 – 30 years what we are doing and have done I believe will be received in such a more open way as we are working with the animals and giving them a second lease on life.

For more information on Maria Tabraue and the efforts of Zoological Wildlife Foundation visit www.mariatabraue.com and follow her across all social platforms inc. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on @mariazwfmiami.


Article by Cyan Leigh