The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Cincinnati Zoo

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is oddly named since the feature gardens are mostly small and unmemorable and do not make an impression upon most visitors beyond most other zoo facilities. The zoo is located in an area of rolling hills a few miles North of downtown and is well served by a bus route which links many of the local attractions and ends at the main entrance here. It is true that there is a great collection of rarely exhibited animals in mostly average and substandard enclosures, but the roomy and very pleasant grounds and extensive amount of exhibits help make up for this fact, and there are still very few depressing exhibits. The layout is probably the most haphazard one I can remember, although a basic loop path could be followed. Unrelated groups of habitats adjoin each other, and plenty of individual exhibits are marooned away from their geographic or zoological cousins. This is certainly a facility full of notable buildings, both good and bad. I won't attempt a blow by blow description as the exhibits are encountered, instead I will group types of exhibits together.

I'll describe visitor buildings first. The new entrance is a nice vaguely colonial tropical complex of buildings and landscape. An entrance building with escalator and elevator fronted by a plaza with a rhino sculpture is located in a new parking lot across the street. Once on the second level, a bridge crosses the street to the ticketing building and turnstile shelter, which leads to a rentals and restroom building, and a gift shop building whose interior is still being finished. The Natural Selections Cafe is a small outdoor cafe on another plaza. The complex is called Historic Vine Street Village. Oddly, it features a WiFi hotspot so one can Zoochat when one gets bored with the extensive zoo's offerings! This entry area creates a good tone compared to the organizational chaos to come. Another complex which I suspect was an older 1970s entrance is on the other side of the zoo, and leads to another parking lot and the Cheetah Encounter across it (which was closed that day). The complex has a gift shop building, cafe, offices, and botanical shadehouse area with matching ordinary woodsy buildings. More striking is a nearby curved wood beamed building with a swooping roofline that is the Family Zooshop, part of the small cramped Children's Zoo. Yet another area of the zoo is the Safari Camp, composed of better themed education buildings and event shelters on a sloping site adjoining other buildings for Safari Grill, 4-D Special FX Theater, and a carousel. The African theme is nice here, but the use of crossed spears above every sign and entry is overdone. Discovery Forest, which is a round glazed atrium that is part of an education center and only features a few exhibits in its two story space, including a toad, macaw, and sloth, is in another corner of the property and looks like a great facility with classrooms. It is not the inspiring indoor rainforest it appears to be from the outside, however.

Exhibits that are mostly in buildings is the next category, again they are scattered. Oldest is the small round turreted Reptile House, with a sadly small center alligator exhibit and a small collection of small wall herpetariums. This is the oldest zoo building in the country and should either be turned into an interpretive non-animal exhibit or bathrooms! Another old historic building is the exotically arched elephant house, with minarets punctuating its roofline. The interior was closed that day, but the two outdoor yards were open, one of which is naturalistic and larger with an amphitheater around a swimming pool and the other a small fenced yard. Four low buildings that appear to be plain 1970s structures that disappear into the trees and landscape include Nocturnal House, Wings of the World, World of the Insect, and Cat House. Nocturnal House is a small one room cavelike collection of about 6 dark exhibits, the largest of which features aardvarks, and is substandard. Wings of the World, which is adjoined by a decent outdoor lorikeet feeding aviary, is a themed collection of pleasant small to midsized aviaries, two of which are skylit tropical walkthroughs and three of which are underwater glazed views of Arctic and Antartic diving birds including penguins. World of the Insect is one of this zoos shining gems and certainly the best insect display I have seen. A winding exhibit path through abstract displays with excellent clear graphics show a wide impressive collection of insects as well as some related creatures, even a small naked mole rat colony which is interpreted as behaviorally related to some insects. Most impressive is a leaf cutter ant colony that travels continously between its home display and the leaf source display through hundreds of feet of clear acrylic tubes on opposite sides of the exhibit rooms. A nice skylit naturalistic walkthrough butterfly exhibit is also featured, and together the wow factor for this complex is great. An insect fan would find this building worth the price of zoo admission alone. The same could be said for feline fans in Cat House, if one could get past the size and confinement of most of the exhibits. A round room is entered first, with multiple exhibits around its circumference, and then a curved path is followed through additional similar exhibits. Although the interiors are well themed and backdrops painted, the habitats are far too small and most lack outdoor access. Those that do have outdoor access have small rocky outcrops with ugly cages. Getting past this, the extensive rare collection and level of activity in such a concentrated space in the morning was electric, and I was inside alone! Displays with active animals that morning were caracal, fishing cat, fossa (non-cat), bat eared fox (non-cat), margay, sand cat, ocelot, serval, coati (non-cat), and snow leopard. There are some other exhibits too, so where else in the zoo world can the small carnivore fan see this? Manatee Springs is a more recent building (1990s?) that features several themed skylit alligator swamp habitats upon entering, and then leads to a darkly lit series of rooms with a decent manatee tank and several smaller florida fish tanks and education displays, not as successful as Columbus Zoos Manatee Coast in the same region.

Large animal outdoor exhibits are also scattered haphazardly, and most are average rocky walled yards and grottoes for a fairly extensive collection including Przewalskis horses, emus, takins, gorillas, lemurs, tigers, cheetahs, red pandas, Indian and black rhinos, bongos, zebras, okapis, black and spectacled and polar bears. A few of note include several rocky yards shaded by large columned awnings for the very rare Sumatran rhinos, a poorly detailed white lion fenced exhibit with an ugly wood platform stuck in the middle for lounging, and an even more unattractive plain fenced flat giraffe exhibit next to the back parking lot.

The last category of exhibits features only two that could be described as multispecies immersive exhibit complexes, one small and one large. The small one is Wolf Woods, which features a nicely themed woodsy complex of an education cabin, a viewing cabin for a well sized sloped Mexican wolf exhibit, a small thick billed parrot aviary, a walkthrough turkey and bird aviary, a river otter exhibit with viewing from three points including an underwater window, and a tiny open air skunk habitat. A decent rocky sealion pool and shore with underwater viewing adjoins these North American exhibits as does the small barnyard themed Childrens Zoo, so I'm not sure if the complex is considered part of the kids area or not but it is certainly reached through it. The larger immersive exhibit is a winner, called Jungle Trails, and features animals from both Asia and Africa. The Asian section is explored first, and the tone is set by exotic tree stumps and a rustic bridge as the trail descends down a wooded slope. This trail is compacted earth, not paved, and really sets this complex apart from the rest of the zoo as a wilder experience. An open small island is reached first, which currently has Diana monkeys (so much for the Asian first theme!), then an aviary with storks which is typical of the smaller outdoor exhibits with timber and wire enclosures. Then a large outdoor enclosure is reached with several viewpoints into a grassy and hilly orangutan and gibbon exhibit which is very nice. A low entrance to a dark indoor exhibit building for Asian animals is then encountered, filled with several small nocturnal exhibits as well as several primate exhibits including the bedroom area for the orangutans. A themed temple exhibit behind glass for lion tailed macaques represents much of the exotic detailing of the interior habitats, which extends into the visitor walkways in the dim environment. After exiting, the African section begins with a nice pond exhibit for painted storks and pelicans, followed by several primate enclosures including colobus. Then the large outdoor bonobo exhibit is viewed, similar to the orangutan. Also similar is the African animal building, with darkened themed visitor walks and bonobo bedroom and glazed primate exhibits as well as a tortoise and aviary exhibit in the jungle setting. This is an excellent immersive complex.

General adult admission is 13 dollars and is right on the money. Of the 45 zoos I have attended, I rank it at number 17 just below Denver Zoo and just above National Zoo in Washington DC. The only exhibit complex here to make my top 50 is Jungle Trails at number 22, just below Bronxs African Plains section and just above San Diegos Polar Bear Plunge. None of the individual exhibits makes my top lists however. I should note that if I had a seperate list for insect exhibits, World of the Insect would probably top it in every category except for butterfly exhibits, it really is superb. I have posted pictures in the gallery.

Source, Photographs, and Great Information

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