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 Columbus Zoo

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is located in Powell, Ohio, 15 miles North of the downtown of the largest city in Ohio. It is not served by the bus system except for some infrequent daily trips during the summer, which is unfortunate for such a major attraction of the area. The zoo is justifiably admired and much of it has the feeling of a tasteful theme park, which is further reinforced by a seasonal water park and small ride park called Zoombezi Bay and Jungle Jacks Landing respectively. Both are entered from the central plaza located just after the turnstiles and set apart from the zoo by a good distance. Once inside the zoo, the visitor is never aware of the adjoining amusements, but they are certainly visible from the acres of parking lot. I didn't tour the parks, so I won't review them. The ticketing and turnstiles are a fairly new vaguely tropical facility surrounded by a round gift shop and rental buildings with a round logoed plaza on each side of the entrance, and this complex sets a nice tone for the great exhibits to come. Past a curved arched gateway, Conservation Lake comes into view, a large pleasant lake that centers this half of the zoo and from which several exhibit areas radiate. One side of it is dominated by several buildings which are perhaps 20 years old and I suspect were once the main entrance not long ago. These buildings are simply modern for their time and feature an education center, gift shop, activity pavilion, and covered show amphitheater. The lake itself contains no exhibits, but an African lion exhibit is nearby and is a weak complex of two wood and wire habitats with wood viewing decks and a central elevated viewing pavilion. This exhibit is not only seperated from the rest of the African exhibits, but is also directly adjacent to the city street and power lines which bisect the zoo property, and this is the only exhibit which is diminished by their prescence. Two far better and extensive exhibit complexes are the remaining areas of this side of the zoo and also are reached from the lakeshore.

North America is a long loop trail surrounding a hill, and what it lacks in detail it makes up for in an extensive collection. The loop exhibits are mostly wooded, with a large clearing where half the hillside is a nice yard for bison and pronghorn. Another large exhibit, this time with a marshy pond and boardwalk, is for moose. Wire fenced enclosures for black bear, grizzly bear, mexican wolf, gray wolf, mountain lion, and bobcat all feature rather ugly angled viewing windows framed by timber for short frontages, but are mostly roomy and shady. Greater detail is lavished on the small wolverine exhibit, which has an entire rustic themed cabin as its viewing area. Detail is also lavished on the prarie dog exhibit, with two arbored viewing areas on two sides of the colony and more detailed graphics, as well as a small Prairie Outpost food stand. The Ohio Wetland area features a sheltered walkway with a small river otter habitat on one side and stream exhibit on the other, both with underwater viewing windows. Adjoining is a medium bald eagle aviary and a larger walkthrough songbird aviary with more cabin theming, probably the most successful exhibit in the complex. The area also features some of the attractions appealing to children, which are spread out through the zoo rather than concentrated. One is the Huntington Train Ride, circling much of the North America complex. The other is Habitat Hollow, an excellent facility of a petting barnyard and pony ride and a simulated house which has several rooms of exhibits, some of which focus on the average home and its relationship to environment, and others that recreate and interpret various habitats with kid friendly play features. Adjacent to the area is the Polar Frontier, an exhibit area under construction which will feature polar and brown bears and arctic fox. I am not sure what part of North America will provide access to the new exhibits, but hopefully it will not disrupt the looping flow of the complex and will further improve this fine if uneven area.

The other loop trail is Asia Quest, and is my favorite exhibit complex at this zoo. It is mostly a newly built area, although it includes an older pachyderm building and yards. One yard is a standard one for African elephants, one a small yard for black rhinos, and another a large yard for Asian elephants which is integrated into the loop trail. The pachyderm building itself is a gargantuan edifice that is similar to a big box suburban store, with a simple rectangular plan and high partially skylit ceiling and a small visitor viewing area inside the entrance. This building lacks character but is roomier than most similar buildings. The rest of the exhibit complex is highly detailed and deserves a description as it is encountered along the trail. The unfortunate entrance gate is a larger than life cartoony stone arch with gargantuan claws at the bottom of the columns and teeth and a tongue above the arch. It is fun but sets a ridiculous tone which much of the rest of the complex does not deserve. Once on the other side, an exotic scenic landscape of a rocky waterfall backdrop adjoins a covered bridge with a habitat on each side. On one side is a series of simulated rice terraces which are part of a nicely sized rock walled yard for Manchurian cranes and tufted deer. The other side is a smaller streamside habitat for white naped cranes and Reeves muntjacs. On the other side of the bridge is the Extinction Bell which rings frequently to signal unnamed extinctions, and a nice netted exhibit with simulated arch ruins and tree trunks for silvered leaf langurs. The first of two exhibit buildings is then entered, this one called the Quest For Enlightenment Center, and the first part is largely educational and filled with the great graphics and cultural detail that the entire complex features. A series of tiger sculptures lines the entry, with species that are thought to be extinct having broken statues on their pedestals. A dragon sculpture presents a welcome to the complex. A series of simulated storefronts in an Himilayan marketplace creates a small presentation theater. Then the interior animal exhibits begin. One is a two story bedroom for sun bears themed to a palm oil plantation barn, and a window out to their rocky detailed outdoor exhibit. Then two small glazed and themed rooms feature a python and a water monitor. Then another of the exhibits annoying missteps...a glazed room for two species of fruit bats with a low wire ceiling skylit from above and plain graveled floor with lame looking scattered potted plants. This is an embarassing travesty for the exhibits designers, no matter what the high concept was. The building then ends with two themed indoor bedrooms for the previously viewed langurs, and an exit to the passage between the building and the older pachyderm building. The next part of the loop goes past the outdoor view of the sun bears, and then a large peninsula walkway that is surrounded by the large pool and grassy slopes of the Asian elephant exhibit. A red panda exhibit features several views into the nice rocky walled medium sized enclosure, and then a great walkthrough pheasant aviary with themed pagodas is entered. The final three exhibits all have interior sheltered views in the second of the complexs new buildings, a themed series of decorated rooms that simulate a Himalayan village. An impressive rocky multileveled markhor exhibit features a variety of climbing surfaces for these goats, although multiple wire barriers have been added to stop escapes! A glazed rocky habitat for Pallas cats is next, unfortunately with no outdoor yard, just the indoor view. Next is the interior view of the large and multilevel amur tiger exhibit, followed by the exterior view and finally a themed tent shelter with a stylized tiger sculpture.

From the far end of Conservation Lake, a tunnel goes under the street that passes through the property and emerges on the other side to a small area of older exhibits, including yards for flamingos, alligators, aldabra tortoises, and a claustrophobic humboldt penguin exhibit with underwater viewing. These exhibits surround the Reptile Building, a round series of mostly small wall herpatariums of average quality and a nice central room with fine graphics and models. Also nearby is an event theater and pavilions on the shore of the lake which the property abuts, and an historic carousel. All of this area is designated as Shores, and two nice exhibit buildings nearby are the main attractions and extend the theme. One is Discovery Reef, housed in a modern building, with a small tide pool, a small reef aquarium in a simulated submarine, and a larger and longer reef aquarium with some small sharks which is full of variety and activity and is viewed from a tiered seating area that runs its length. It is a nice facility but is not nearly as extensive as Henry Doorly Zoos Kingdom of the Seas, I'm not sure it warrants the entire zoo to add 'aquarium' to its title. Next door is a far more impressive building, Manatee Coast. Its modern curved roof architecture is entered under an overhang, and the scene changes to a highly detailed large skylit room that recreates Florida coast with mangroves and fishing shacks and piers and a beautiful sloping rocky underwater habitat for manatees as well as rays and fish that is fronted by curved viewing panels for visitors. Along its length, as the water habitat gets deeper, the visitor path also slopes down for deeper views. At the end is an education center and video theater before exiting. This certainly starts to warrant the 'aquarium' title further!

Another major exhibit complex on the lake side of the zoo is African Forest, whose many exhibits are more stongly themed with graphics and occasional buildings than some of the exhibits themselves. A large food court called Congo River Market and an entry education pavilion called Congo River Base Camp establish the theme with their large huts. Along the winding loop path are wooded boardwalks and viewing shelters looking at standard wood and wire enclosures for colobus monkeys, grey parrots, African forest birds, African leopards, and mandrills. Several pleasant wooded yards house okapi, bongo, and duikers. The large gorilla collection includes a visitor accessed round house with several indoor bedrooms filled with large branch structures, and a medium outdoor enclosure that the troops can rotate through. This outdoor enclosure is completely caged, consisting of several adjoining octagonal spaces with pavilion rooflines that is far too architectural even if the substrate itself is earth and grass, and is this facilitys weakest point. In contrast, the adjoining bonobo exhibit is a huge open habitat with rocky walls, a stream that tumbles down its slope, and multiple viewing windows around its circular layout. It is the greatest part of the complex and begs the question what did the gorillas do wrong?! However the bonobos get their own insult with a row of several smaller cagelike habitats for holding when not rotating through their wonderland. Finally, a nice red river hog exhibit with rocky walls adjoins the bonobos. Overall this complex is very nice but has a few blunders.

The final exhibit complex of this zoo is an uneven but fine two part area called Voyage to Australia and the Islands. Australia features three themed buildings and Kangaroo Station, a small walkthrough kangaroo exhibit. Lorikeet Garden is a structure that looks like a large garden greenhouse with only netting instead of glazing, containing many lorikeets for feeding. A small building houses the koala display behind glass. Finally, the most themed building is Bob and Evelyns Roadhouse, a dark exhibit area simulating an outback outpost with a front education room that recreates a dusty rusty diner in the Red Heart. Then the next room is a naturalistic nocturnal area called Forest Night Hike, with small enclosures mostly behind wire or glass for fishing cats, kiwis, palm civets, tree kangaroos, feather gliders, and a few others who definitely stretch the theme to the islands. The last room is a medium walk-in aviary that is brightly illuminated from an opaque ceiling above and mostly features island birds including pheasants. The Islands section refers to the islands of Southeast Asia, and it is the larger and stronger themed of the two areas. It is entirely outdoors and features multiple exotic viewing pavilions and a looping path with strong graphics and an abundance of cultural artifacts. The theme park aspect of this area is strong, especially since a slow moving flume boatride weaves under the walkways providing close views of some of the exhibits. A central exotic pavilion houses gibbons in a tall netted enclosure, with a siamang island surrounded by a scenic shallow waterway. An excellent Komodo dragon exhibit features a rocky and grassy yard with multiple levels as well as an indoor shack themed shelter with a viewing window. An excellent Asian otter exhibit is similar, with a pool and a cascading waterway. Small islands for cockatoos and a waterway for black swans adjoin the themed boatride loading shelter. Finally, a large enclosure for orangutans is here too, although the climbing structures set in the grassy slopes and the oddly painted jagged concrete backwall are too brutal and rather cartoony. However, this does not detract too much from the transportive adventurous feeling of the complex.

This is a fantastic zoo strengthened by its strong theming and organization, and at general adult admission of 12 dollars, it is 3 dollars underpriced. Its almost total lack of South American animals and exhibits makes it shy of a complete zoo, and its hoofstock collection is very minimal which usually takes my opinion down a notch. Despite this, I rank this zoo at my number 8 position in the 45 zoos I have visited, just below Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa (zoo sections rated only) and just above Taronga Zoo in Sydney. In my list of top 50 exhibit complexes, Asia Quest is number 20, Voyage to Australia and the Islands is number 25, and African Forest is number 33. In my list of top 25 individual small mammal exhibits, the Asian Otter Exhibit in Voyage to Australia and the Islands is number 3, and the same areas Komodo Dragon Exhibit is also number 3 in my top 15 individual reptile and amphibian exhibits. Manatee Coast gets my number 4 ranking in my top 15 for aquatic mammals. I have posted pictures in the gallery.

Source and Photographs

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