Despite what most of you probably think, one can never go to enough zoos! Even though they frequently display similar animals, they are all unique. In December 2012 / January 2013 we visited three very different zoos in the southern USA and thoroughly enjoyed each one.
Audubon Zoo, New Orleans was our first stop. We were staying on St Charles Avenue so we just caught the street car up to Audubon Park. Public transport in New Orleans is so easy and inexpensive. It was an absolutely beautiful winter’s Sunday. The sky was clear and blue and the locals were just enjoying being out in the park with their families. The walk across the park to the zoo was fun. We admired the huge oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss and exclaimed excitedly every time we saw a squirrel! There were lots of them, the sight should have worn thin, but I have a real soft spot for squirrels – they are cute and fascinating to watch bounding around hyperactively and, they have bushy tails!
After entering the zoo there was a fabulous, huge fountain full of hippo and elephants.The Audubon was not a spectacular zoo but the grounds were pleasant and on a sunny winter day it was a great day out.
Audubon has a special ticket you can purchase which gives good value entrance to the zoo, aquarium, insectarium and IMAX theatre. We were pressed for time so dashed into the aquarium just to see the sea otters which we’d never seen before. They are so incredibly cute. They also had some very cute rays and a great variety of seahorses, which are rather extraordinary creatures.
The aquarium had recently opened a huge aviary (Parakeet Pointe) filled with screeching budgerigars. An unusual thing to find in an aquarium don’t you think? This jutted out over the walkway below so every time we walked past we were greeted with the cacophony that only parrots can manage. Reminded us of home with the rainbow lorikeets coming in to roost for the evening.
The IMAX showed a really interesting film Hurricane on the Bayou looking at local environmental changes which would alter New Orleans’ susceptibility to devastation in the event of a serious hurricane. The film was commenced prior to Hurricane Katrina and completed in the aftermath of Katrina’s destruction. It is not currently showing.
The insectarium was curiously fascinating with giant cockroaches and a butterfly house you can walk through.
Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida is just a small zoo but was definitely fun. Reminding us of home again was an aviary full of screeching rainbow lorikeets and cockatiels. You can enter with the birds and feed them. If you have ever been to Currumbin, on Queensland’s Gold Coast, you will know that this means you will become covered in lorikeets.
The zoo offered a number of different activities including feeding the giraffes and kayaking. Although we did get close to the giraffes, they decided they’d had enough food or attention or both by the time we had an opportunity to offer our food and moved off.
The kayaking was definitely a novel experience at a zoo. We found it a little disappointing though, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the guide was like we’d pressed a tape recorder play button. No sooner had we settled into position in our kayaks than she pressed play and didn’t deviate from her, obviously well rehearsed, spiel. We, as veteran zoo visitors, knew most of what she told us and would have appreciated a little more flexibility from her tour. We were the only ones there so this would have been possible. Secondly, as seasoned paddlers, the tour was too quick. We would really have enjoyed being able to paddle around the circuit again, at our leisure, after the official tour. Thirdly, the animals weren’ t cooperating and we didn’t see much from the water. Not the zoo’s fault of course!
We went to wait for the otters (not sea otters) to be fed. At first we thought one of them was distressed and showing signs of detrimental captive behaviour – he paced relentlessly up and down near the glass edge to the enclosure. Turns out he just knew it was dinner time!
San Diego Zoo, the one and only reason we went to San Diego – of course! Many years ago we watched a wildlife show on TV presented by Jack Hanna. He often presented segments at San Diego Zoo and we had always felt this looked like a zoo worth visiting. So we did. This is a large, busy zoo very unlike Brevard Zoo. We started the day by taking a bus tour around the grounds. I recommend getting a seat upstairs for the best views. This was a great way to get an overview of the zoo. We also managed to see a couple of animal antics we would have missed if we hadn’t been up in the bus. The polar bears were frolicking playfully at an end of their pool that wasn’t easily visible from the ground. We caught the “tough” male lion, King of the Jungle and all that, tenderly grooming the female. Priceless.
We were extraordinarily lucky to turn up just half an hour after a baby takin had been born! We’d never heard of or seen a takin before, so this really was a rare and very special zoo experience. A takin is a Himalayan animal that appears to be an incongruous mix of other animals such as goats and antelopes, but is actually most closely related to the Barbary sheep of North Africa.
Then there were pandas! Can you have too many photos of pandas?
And orangutans. There was a large group of orangutans, old and young. The young ones were joyously playful, swinging on the ropes and hanging upside down. One very old lady seemed to want the company of the visitors and stayed right up against the glass. Another, younger orangutan had a piece of sack and was busy dipping it in a puddle of water and then diligently washing the windows with it! Amazing.
And the best pygmy hippo display I’ve ever seen! I know, it’s not normal to get excited about pygmy hippos but I have horrid memories of Taronga zoo in the 1970s with a poor pygmy hippo housed in a mass of concrete with a minute puddle stuck in the middle of it. Taronga’s hippo enclosure is much different now, though I still didn’t see the hippo/s on my recent visit. San Diego, however, had a well vegetated land section plus a wonderful pool complete with huge fish. You can watch the hippos from under the water as they walk along bottom – ignoring the fish, they are vegetarian. I have never seen such active hippos, it was great.