This was my first ever trip to an American zoo and I have to say I was impressed. OK, so I’d expect nothing less, but this was nevertheless an excellent day out. The layout was great, the species interesting, and as usual even for a real zoo-phile for me, there were some unique treats.
Just to get the slight bad out of the way first, a couple of turkeys, flamingos, penguins and an ostrich aside there were literally no birds at all in the zoo. I assume the presence of the aviary has a lot to do with it, but it was still a little jarring that there was nothing at all. I wouldn’t call it a negative as such, but it does rather under represent a pretty major group of vertebrates to say the least, and I can’t see how couple of enclosures would really kill them or impact on traffic to the aviary. My other very minor gripe would be (ironically) the lack of local species, or more rather there were setups for porcupine, skunk and American beaver but none of them were on show, which for me was a shame as these are things I’ve not seen before, dull as they may be to most visitors. Such is life and it’s not the major issue, but it piqued me at the time.
So onto the good, and there is so much good. The enclosures were generous and well-planned, there were some great mixed exhibits, and the layout was clever. You revisit most of the enclosures at some point, doubling back and coming across rhino or lions again from a different angle and gaining a new vantage point and an opportunity to see something missed before, and some of the environments were well stacked Hagenback style to increase the look of the thing. ‘Difficult’ animals like polar bear, African elephant and gorillas were all doing well and showing natural behaviours. In the case of the elephants, the bull was clearly unhappy about something and was giving a full on rumble – something I’d not even seen in Kenya. There’s real power in there, would could feel the room vibrate which was no mean feat given the volume of concrete involved. As for the gorillas, something unique: a pair of silverbacks. Apparently the two are twins and get on fine with each other, so the colony has a pair of dominant males.
Onto the superb and brand new aquarium. This has a strong conservation focus with an admirable record for breeding seahorses and keeps numerous corals which is no easy task. There was a colossal marine tank full of the usual sharks and reef fish, a lovely Amazon setup full of the big and bold, a nice penguin tank, a great collection of large rays and best of all (if sadly unphotographable) a pacific giant octopus nursing thousands of her eggs.
Most memorable though was the outside aquarium for sand tiger sharks. A massive enclosure with viewing ports at various levels and a walk through tunnel too, this was simply bare walls and lit by the overhead sun. The effect however, was magical. Huge animals cruising incredibly slowly and gently around the tank, barely moving their tails or fins it was silent and beautiful, not just the sharks themselves, but their shadows too and those against the stark blue walls with the ripples of light from above was worth watching in its own right.
Finally there was an exhibition centre, objectively to bring the animals closer to the public, though in reality not much more than a combined reptile and small-mammal house with numerous snakes, lizards some bats and the like. And finally a new mammal – an American possum, if looking a bit rough around the edges. All in all a great day, a great zoo and great fun.