How to Have a Great Day at the Zoo

What’s up at the zoo these days?  Today’s zoos are much different than the collections of animal cages typically found forty or fifty years ago.  Back then, displays were pretty generic and the animals just lounged around bored and miserable day after day.  These days you’ll find a lively, interactive venue where the animals’ welfare is looked after, and everyone in the family finds something of interest.

Zoos have been around since the early 1800s, with the first prominent one being the London Zoo.  Early zoos were known as menageries or zoological gardens.  Around 1848, the Bristol Zoo Gardens in southwest England became popularized in a song, “Walking in the Zoo on Sunday” by Alfred Vance.   The term was used for the facilities opened in the Bronx, New York, and in Washington, D.C., at the end of that century, and the word pretty much became a household name.

Zoos do much more today than just maintain animals in a setting where people can observe them.  Zookeepers these days work proactively to keep animals happy in their environments.  You’ll find a variety of natural backgrounds in just about any zoo.  These habitats do much more than serve as a kindness to the animal:  They are also an ecological improvement.  They provide a venue for animal research and breeding.  And the zoos that display animals in their natural habitats do a much better job in attracting the entertainment dollars in a family’s budget.

There are approximately a thousand zoos open for business throughout the world, most of them in cities.  Naturally, zoos compete with one another by developing various features:

  • There’s a rainforest in the Cleveland Zoo, which spans two levels and over two acres.  It showcases more than 600 animals and contains ten times that many plant exhibits.  One area displays Asian porcupines in a forest where storms occur, complete with thunder, lightning, and wind, every twelve minutes.  You can also visit a bat exhibit, insectarium, and orangutan exhibit all within the rainforest.
  • The Taronga Zoo of Sydney, Australia, lets visitors traverse along pathways where they can get magnificent views of the coast as well as enjoy animals from all over the world.  The Great Southern Oceans exhibit allows visitors to get close to sea lions, fur seals, penguins, pelicans, and more; and there’s also a submarine research station.  Or you can view traditional animals, and follow the progress of Asian elephants in an environment geared to extend their viability in today’s wilderness.
  • At the London Zoo, you can visit an exciting display of free-flying birds, from colorful macaws to majestic eagles.  Or you can observe this zoo’s three western lowland gorillas, protected in their own natural kingdom.  The gorillas have learned to respond to commands to present their arms, bellies, and ears for medical inspection on a routine basis.  Or take a ride through the zoo on a steam train to see all your favorite traditional animals.
  • Philadelphia has one of the world’s oldest zoos, renowned for working with animals that do not breed well in captivity.  Besides the World of Primates and the McNeil Avian Center, you can also view some really exotic creatures from South America.  Or see if, weather permitting, you can get a hot air balloon ride!

Zoos are working hard to establish themselves within communities as a place not only to learn, but also to have fun.  Check your local zoo’s website, because many of them have activites such as:

  • Seasonal exhibits, such as Halloween Boo at the Zoo events, or Christmas animal displays.
  • Space for your business event, family reunion, or other party-even weddings.
  • Some zoos provide lovely backdrops for wedding or prom photography.
  • Ask your local zoo if they sponsor a zoo on wheels that will come to your neighborhood or school.
  • Adopt-a-pet programs give you insider access to zoo personnel, web pages, and even special tours.
  • Some zoos offer unique experiences for groups, such as nocturnal or even overnight tours.
  • Find out if your zoo allows people to work with the zookeepers during early morning animal care routines.

If you’re going to the zoo, equip yourself with the following:

  • Bring enough money for admission, and visit your zoo’s website to learn if parking is free.  Most zoos charge minimal prices because they are very family friendly.  You might want to bring extra money in the event you get hungry or thirsty, or if there is a ride or carousel in the zoo.
  • Wear good walking shoes.  No matter what you normally wear on your feet, this is one day when you should protect your feet with something that will let you walk around for hours without complaint.
  • Take a camera, because you’ll want to remember your fun!  And if you haven’t gone digital, bring an extra roll of film.
  • If you have toddlers or babies, bring a stroller, preferably with a sun visor.  Expect younger children to tire out quickly, especially if it’s hot, so bring a blanket, bottle, and diaper necessities.
  • Bring sun hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Carry a tote with a few bottles of water.  Expect to get thirsty on your travels.
  • Most zoos provide pavilions if you want to bring your own picnic basket.  Most of them prohibit aluminum cans, straws, or glassware that might find its way into the animal habitats.
  • Pack some wipes in that tote we mentioned.  You never know when someone will need to clean their hands.
  • Some zoos rent wheelchairs or strollers for a nominal price, but availability is limited.
  • Bring some coins in the event that your zoo offers small portions of animal feed for certain animals.  These coin-operated dispensers are much more rare than they used to be, but you might still find them at some displays.

Zoos all over the world incorporate superb environmental varieties to attract patrons.  There are aquariums, butterfly displays, aviaries full of birds, monkey houses, and herpetariums that show off snakes and lizards.  You’ll find tundra, tropics, mountains, polar or desert plains, savannahs and outbacks, and so much more.  You can travel on a tram, a train, a boat, or just laugh among the animals in a petting zoo. Find out more about the zoo on Wiki.

Throughout many zoos you’ll find attendants stationed to answer visitors’ questions.  Most zoologists are dedicated to the belief that captivating the interest of young people today will foster their commitment to conservation and preservation of the world they are inheriting.

Enjoy your next day at the Zoo!

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