Jul/Aug 2004

Top: A Bengal Tiger at the Audubon Zoo. Louisiana Office of Tourism photo

Below: Visitors can follow an elevated boardwalk through the Gorilla Forest at the Louisville Zoo. David Meier-Louisville Zoo photo

Before You Go
For information, contact:

• Audubon Zoo, 1-866-ITS-AZOO (866-487-2966) or www.auduboninstitute.org;

• Little Rock Zoo, (501) 666-2406, www.littlerockzoo.com;

• Fort Worth Zoo, (817) 759-7555, www.fortworthzoo.com;

• Louisville Zoo, (502) 459-2181, www.louisvillezoo.org;

• Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, (615) 833-1534, www.nashvillezoo.org;

• Lowry Park Zoo, (813) 935-8552, www.lowryparkzoo.com.

• Memphis Zoo, (901) 333-6500, www.memphiszoo.org.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on reader resources.

It’s not just the animals that draw visitors to southern zoos. today’s guests will find interactive exhibits, camp-outs and close encounters with beasts.
By Carolyn Thornton

wo lion cubs arrived in my hometown in 1955. To draw attention to the small collection of animals at the Hattiesburg Zoo, a “Name the Lions” contest was announced. My mother won $7.50 for naming them Hattie and Hardy in honor of the city’s founder, William Hardy, and his wife, Hattie.

It takes more than a contest to entertain zoo visitors today. Zoos have become destinations. Animal lovers can go behind the scenes with zookeepers, spend the night during seasonal camp-outs, or play interactive games that entertain while educating. Here’s a sampling of what’s in store at a selection of Southern zoos.

Audubon adventures

In steamy New Orleans, Audubon Zoo animals this summer will chill out with misters, sprinklers, hoses and specially prepared Popsicles. Primates feast on frozen treats, bears get frozen fish or fruit and big cats get “bloodsicles.”

This summer, the zoo also will focus on its new babies, including Satchmo, the zoo’s first rhino birth, and a giant anteater, another zoo first.

Animal shows always are popular with summertime visitors. Watch as sea lions dash through the water and leap into the air, demonstrating their defense against predators. Guests also can see the elephants work with logs, a behavior similar to that used in India for clearing land. For a grand finale, the elephants walk into a chute where people can touch them.

More hands-on opportunities occur during Safari After Dark camp-outs, where participants hike, hear stories and watch as naturalists bring animals to the individual tents. On Twilight Treks, naturalists point out egrets and herons that come into the zoo to roost in the live oak rookery.

AAA members can save $2 off an adult admission and $1 off a child admission when they show their AAA membership card at the zoo gate.

Little Rock welcomes two ladies The Little Rock Zoo this May welcomed two ladies from Canada–female gorillas Catherine and Sekani. They will make their home in the Great Ape area of the zoo

“We’re very excited. We hope to have baby gorillas one day,” said Shonna Green, public relations director, adding the zoo hopes to welcome another male gorilla.

In addition, a slew of Zoofari classes this summer will cover topics such as photography, insects and their secret lives, and behind-the-scenes looks with a zookeeper for career-minded youngsters. Families can experience Zoo Snoozes from spring through fall, which are camp-outs featuring tours, stories, a live animal program and s’mores around the campfire.

Finally, the zoo gives insight into your favorite critters through Endangered Species, Birds of Prey, Reptiles, and Biofacts of the World programs.

Pandas in Memphis

A pair of giant pandas made their debut at the Memphis Zoo’s new “CHINA” exhibit this spring, and guests have been going wild over Ya Ya and Le Le, who came to Tennessee from Beijing. Visitors can watch as the pandas chomp bamboo, play and climb in their new three-acre, $16-million habitat that immerses visitors in the history, culture and wildlife of China.

“It is very satsfying to finally see our visitors enjoying giant pandas at our zoo,” said Zoo President Chuck Brady. “We will be studying these pandas for the next 10 years, in hopes of impacting conservation efforts to save the giant panda in the wild.”

Ya Ya and Le Le are the fourth pair of pandas on exhibit in the United States. There are thought to be fewer than 1,000 giant pandas left in the wild, making them one of the most endangered species on the planet.
Go wild in Texas

Where can you sidestep past a 7-foot-2-inch long rattlesnake, seat a family of five on the back of a 14-foot alligator, or come nose-to-nose with a live black bear? See it all, and more, at Texas Wild!, an eight-acre addition that opened in 2001 at the Fort Worth Zoo.

Thankfully, the rattler is not real and the gator is a replica, but the bears are real. Lured by treats of honey and berries, they climb into a specially designed hollow log, offering close encounters for anyone small enough to meet them in the middle. A glass partition in the middle safely separates the bear from the brave.

Designed to educate on lessons of conservation and land stewardship, Texas Wild! features the Texas Hall of Wonders, where you’ll not only see that rattler, but a grapefruit-size replica snowball that represents the largest chunk of hail to fall in Texas. Step into Wild Weather Extravaganza and dodge golf ball-size plastic hail.

Gorillas are in the mist

Last year, the Louisville Zoo won a national award for Gorilla Forest, a four-acre habitat that allows visitors to watch gorillas eating and sleeping. Following a path and an elevated boardwalk through the forest canopy, guests explore this exhibit, which opened in 2002. Small surprises along the way include a replica research station.

A popular exhibit about butterflies returns this spring and will continue through September. Walk through a lush rainforest trail and interact with the hundreds of colorful butterflies from Belize and Costa Rica. Don't be surprised if one lands on you.

Growing in Nashville

The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere is adding new exhibits annually as part of its 15-year master plan. New or revamped habitats include Gibbon Islands, which houses gibbons from southeast Asia. Your little monkeys can get rid of excess energy at the Jungle Gym. At 60,000-square-feet, it is the nation’s largest community-built playground.

Last August, the Bamboo Trail opened to link habitats for Clouded Leopards, Red Pandas and Rhinoceros Hornbills. This summer, the African elephants will have room to roam in their new three-acre habitat.

In addition to a full schedule of animal shows–including Wings of the World, It’s a Wild Life and Practice Makes Perfect–animal lovers can participate in several programs and summer camps. Summer events include Water Weekends on July 10–11 and 17–18, where guests can learn the importance of water conservation. On Ice Day, July 24, artisans carve ice sculptures, games have icy themes and the animals get icy treats.

Underwater giants

Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla., is home to the Manatee and Aquatic Center, the only non-profit center for the treatment of sick, injured and orphaned manatees in the world. Each year, eight percent of Florida’s manatee population is lost from encounters with boat hulls, propellers, fishing nets and red tide. When a sick or injured manatee is reported, the state wildlife team picks up the animal and trucks it to the center.

These gentle giants average 1,500 to 2,000 pounds, but can weigh up to 3,000 pounds. Feeding these mammoth patients is no small task. Each 1,000-pound manatee eats 200 pounds of romaine lettuce a day.

“They probably eat more here than they do in the wild,” said Virginia Edmonds, assistant curator of Florida mammals.

Visitors can view the manatees from a boardwalk or at two underwater viewing pools. Programs teach participants how to protect this Florida native. Taking it slow in boats is the biggest lifesaver.

“We’re fortunate to have a conservation program that works with animals in our own backyard,” said Edmonds. “These animals get a second chance (at life here).”

Carolyn Thornton is a contributor from Purvis, Miss.

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