In Miami's Metrozoo, the animals are uncaged. Only moats separate the people and the wildlife.

Metrozoo's 160-acre first phase of development opened Dec. 12. Two days after Christmas, a record crowd of 13,000 visitors was more than the zoo could accommodate, and the gates closed early.

Metrozoo is not simply an "attraction" or a theme park. It is a refuge for endangered animals and home to one of the world's best collections of rare crocodiles, storks and cranes.No longer can visitors expect to see in one zoo all of the world's exotic beasts, paired off and posing. What Metrozoo promises is a collection of healthy animals and some education.

The animals live on islands surrounded by moats. Among the zoo's many special features are a colorful replica of a Malayan village that houses an animal contact area; walk-through viewing caves at specific exhibits, and an ampitheater bird show.

More than 40 animals include tigers, orangutans, elephants, chimps, rhinos, lions, bears and gorillas. Unfortunately, six rare birds valued at $60,000 were stolen from the zoo after Christmas.

Metrozoo's second phase, the African lobe, is scheduled for completion in 1983. It will bring Metrozoo to 260 developed acres, making it one of the largest zoos in America.

Metrozoo is organized around zoo-geographic themes, meaning that exhibits are arranged according native habitats. The rockwork, landscape and architecture of each display also portray the geographic themes.

Many animals will never be seen by the public. They are kept in private quarters and encouraged to breed. Since 1978, three successful breedings of a rare Siamese crocodile have occurred at Metrozoo. On breeding loan from the Philadelphia Zoo, Ramar the gorilla is being observed as part of a long-term study about how changes in his environment affect his psychology and physiology.

"We feel we have an ideal facility for a solid, ongoing program in breeding gorillas," said Metrozoo General Curator Bill Zeigler.

Metrozoo is located at 12400 Southwest 152nd St. just west of the Florida Turnpike exit and about 20 minutes southwest of downtown. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3.75 or adults and $1.50 for children aged 2 to 12. Children under two are admitted free.