Saturday, October 6, 2012

Field Trips - The Zoo

They were brothers, twins, born the same month and year that our son, Peter, was born. Our Peter was born in a hospital in Texas. The twins were born in a Zoo in Pittsburg, PA.  They were Kodiak bears.

The twins came to the Indianapolis Zoo in 1988, just after we relocated to Indy, ourselves. So what would you do if you found out that a Zoo animal was your age or your kid’s age? I know what we did. We bonded with those bears.  After that, the highlight of every Zoo trip was visiting the enclosure for Peter’s birthday buds.

Zoos. We love them. Where else can you receive top notch, outside-the-box education disguised as fun? And this is the best time of year to visit a Zoo. In cooler weather the animals are perkier. The crowds are fewer. But you can still find great stories that will stick with you forever and give you a new appreciation for the creatures that share our world.

I grew up visiting Como Park Zoo in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. The highlights for me were the big cats and the Galapagos tortoise. No visit of mine was complete without seeing Toby the Tortoise who roamed freely in and out of the Zoological Building mingling with visitors. Small children, such as I once was, were allowed to ride on his back at a whopping speed of 0.2 mph. Unless he was sleeping, of course, which he did for16 hours per day. Galapagos tortoises can live for 150 years! Toby eventually retired to a Zoo in Honolulu where he still lives today, 93 years old. And the cats? The first Siberian tigers to be raised successfully in captivity were born there at Como Park Zoo when I was 2 years old. I loved watching the big kittens grow.

But you don’t have to live near a big city Zoo to enjoy and learn about animals.  Small Zoos are just as important. My husband, Matt, grew up in Illinois near Niabi Zoo. Back in the 1960s when Niabi Zoo was tiny and new, Matt actually contributed an animal to the Zoo. He had bottle-fed a stray raccoon and raised it to adulthood. It followed him around like Mary’s little lamb, and even went to school with him as an educational exhibit for a science class.  When Rascal the Raccoon started wreaking too much havoc at home, however, it was time for him to go. Knowing the raccoon would never survive in the wild, Matt called Niabi Zoo. They were delighted to receive the raccoon, and it was happy to make the move. Rascal spent the rest of his life doing what he enjoyed most – showing off and interacting with humans and being a great educational exhibit.

You probably have a Zoo that you enjoy, too. If you do, please leave a comment and tell me about it. Your input will help me with research for a new book.

And now, the top 10 Zoos in the USA, from ratings received by Is there one near you?

1) Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, Nebr. ($13.50/adult; $9/child aged 3–11)

2) Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis, Mo. (free; though charges apply for certain exhibits)

3) Cape May County Park & Zoo, Cape May, N.J. (free)

4) Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, S.C. ($11.75/adult; $9.25/child aged 3–12)

5) Memphis Zoo, Memphis, Tenn. ($15/adult; $10/child aged 2–11)

6) San Diego Zoo, San Diego, Calif. ($42/adult; $32/child aged 3–11)

7) Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, Kans. ($13.95/adult; $8.95/child aged 3–11)

8) Brevard Zoo, Melbourne, Fla. ($14.50/adult; $10.50/child aged 2–12)

9) Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs, Colo. ($17.25/adult; $12.25/child aged 3–11)

10) Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, La. ($16/adult; $11/child aged 2–12)

And now for the Dream Zoo Trip!  From, we have the top ten Zoos in the world:

Animal Kingdom, Orlando. Disney. Need we say more?

Basel Zoo, Switzerland. Opened in 1874, it is one of the oldest zoos in operation today and has more than 6,000 animals.

Beauval Zoo, France. Opened in 1980 as an aviary housing over 2,000 species of birds and has since grown to over 4,000 animals.

Bronx Zoo, New York. The largest zoo in a metropolitan location in the United States, it has 250 acres and over 4,000 animals.

National Zoological Gardens, South Africa. Largest zoo in South Africa. Over 2,500 species of animals, with most of the animals born and bred right there.

Berlin Zoological Garden, Germany. Originally opened in 1844 and considered a historical landmark because it survived World War II.

Schonbrunner Zoo, Austria. Founded in 1792, the oldest zoo in the world.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, DC. Our National Zoo, and it’s FREE.

Toronto Zoo, Toronto, Canada. One of the largest zoos in the world, it has over 700 acres with over 5,000 animals.

Singapore Zoo, Singapore. Famous for incredible landscape design and it’s Jungle Breakfasts where orangutans mingle with the breakfasters.

Before you go: Ask, “What are my favorite animals? Will I see any here? What do I know about them now?

When you are there: Enjoy the Zoo! Read the signs. Watch the animals. Listen for their voices. Observe. Does their skin look rough? Smooth? Fuzzy?

Afterward: Document your trip. Draw a picture of your favorite animals. Write a poem or a story about your trip or an animal. Make a photo album or scrapbook. Plan your next trip.

And consider a Zoo Membership. Family memberships usually cost about $10 per month. Save up for it and give it as a family gift on a special occasion. It will benefit you, the zoo, and the animals.

Want a virtual trip or more online Zoo education?  Try these sites.
For Zoo Education:

For Kids, the San Diego Zoo online site:

Want to be a Zookeeper? Here’s where you can find out how to do it.

National Zoo:

Find a Zoo near you and make some friends. Enjoy!


  1. Great post! And very fitting, since I (Sophia) will be taking the boys to the Omaha, Henry Doorly Zoo Monday! We bought a season pass this year and love going as family and also joining up with friends for a "play day". We're looking forward to seeing how much the baby giraffes have grown. And sitting down for lunch with the prairie dogs again. The last time we were there they shared our food and were climbing all over us. :)

  2. Thanks for your comment! I love your story about the lunch with the prairie dogs. Did you have fun today?

  3. Yes, we sure did! In the three hours that we were there, we saw the desert animals, nocturnal, gorillas, cats, bears, birds, giraffes (I guess I thought the baby giraffe would be much bigger, seeing that it was born in March...I wonder how long it is until they are full grown....), seals, and probably more that I'm forgetting. We also spent a lot of time playing at the Fossil Dig Site, and petting and brushing the goats :) Wish we would have had time for the aquarium and lied jungle and butterfly exhibit. Next time!

  4. Sounds like a super trip! Thank you for telling us about it. :)