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Snowleopard's 2010 Road Trip

Discussion in 'United States' started by snowleopard, 14 Jul 2010.

  1. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    This is not just directed at "mweb08", but it is simply a general post urging folks not to become critical of my reviews of their local zoos. People are so passionate about certain zoos that they fail to see the obvious flaws that are right in front of them.

    Please don't be critical of Baldur (whom I am quite friendly with at times on Facebook and ZooChat) and I seeing zoos that you claim "aren't anything to write home about". My wife and I have already toured Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Empire State Building, the Natural History Museum and all of the major monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C., Gateway Arch, Sixth Floor Museum, The Alamo, Niagara Falls, Statue of Liberty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, Alcatraz Prison, and countless other major American tourist attractions. Plus we've seen loads of top-notch establishments throughout Canada and Australia.

    I have deliberately set out to see ALL of America's best zoos, and that does include many smaller, perhaps slightly weaker zoos that can be toured in around 3 hours. I have loved almost all of them, as even zoos that most ZooChatters dislike such as San Antonio have a series of great new exhibits that are well worth going to. Even smaller ones like Mesker Park (terrific rainforest building), Gladys Porter (amazing collection) and Cameron Park (the surprise of the entire road trip) are fantastic to see.

    A couple of people were very critical of my reviews of Philadelphia and Maryland (a pair of middle of the road/average zoos), and reviewing zoos is subjective and thus what one individual likes another might dislike. One thing that I've definitely learned is that it is important to find at least 2-3 animals/exhibits/experiences at each zoo to make it worthwhile, and that the more zoos and aquariums a person sees the greater their perspective on those attractions.

    After this trip I will have seen just about every major zoo in the United States, and thus I have at least some appreciation for all of them and I have a fresh image of where zoos stand in my personal memory. For example, about four years ago I used to think that the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada, was quite impressive, but now I realize that it is average at best and quite disappointing in comparison to many larger American zoos. Also, I was not totally thrilled with my visit to Fort Worth Zoo in Texas two years ago, but looking back and comparing it to many other zoos I now see that many of the exhibits are decent but unspectacular and the animal collection is very impressive. I have a greater appreciation for Fort Worth and I think that it might be the #2 zoo in Texas after Dallas. The bottom line is that anyone who truly loves their local zoo must venture out and see 40 or more zoos and then go back to their local zoo and see if it is still as fantastic as it once was.
     
  2. mweb08

    mweb08 Well-Known Member

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    I'm not sure what your first paragraph had to do with my post so I would hope it wasn't just directed at me.

    I'm also clearly not being critical of Baldur or you.

    That's great that you have seen all those places. And don't get me wrong, I would love to visit all the zoos too, I just would prefer more balance in a trip and to see some other sites if I hadn't seen them or spent much time experiencing a city or national park. It seems that you have already seen a lot of the major sites, so that's wonderful. Since Baldur lives in Iceland, he probably hasn't seen as many sites as you have. But regardless, he can obviously do what he wants on vacation. Again, I'm simply just stating my preference.

    To your last point, sure, people need to see multiple zoos, including some of the top ones to fairly judge their home zoo, but I'm pretty sure I don't need to see 40 plus zoos to judge my former home zoos in San Diego, SDWAP, and LA or my current ones on Philadelphia, Maryland, and DC.
     
  3. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    DAY 39: Thursday, August 19th

    For the second day in a row there is no review, as we drove about 7 hours from just outside of San Antonio to El Paso and also did some shopping in order to buy some super-cheap kiddie clothes. I type this on Friday night, and I'll have my review of El Paso Zoo probably posted sometime on Saturday night. El Paso is a gem of a zoo, with many lush exhibits and barely any poor ones whatsoever. The big new African area has really revitalized the entire zoo, and including sitting down for lunch we spent 3 hours there.

    We also drove into Juarez, one of the murder capitals of the world with a couple of thousand homicides per year, in the nation of Mexico! Juarez is El Paso's "sister city", and while there we saw army jeeps speed by with mounted machine guns and heavily armed soliders in combat gear, and we were visually shocked by at least one hundred beggars and hustlers. We drove across the border and turned right around again without actually getting out of the vehicle. However, that was the plan all along because my wife Debbie smartly consented to visit Mexico as long as we stayed in the van. Now little Kylie is less than a year old and she has visited over 30 U.S. States and 3 different countries (Canada, U.S.A. and Mexico)!

    Tentative Schedule: This schedule might bump back a day if we see Hogle on Tuesday and then Boise on Wednesday...it might or might not work out that way.

    Friday - El Paso Zoo + Visit to Mexico
    Saturday - Rio Grande Zoo + Albuquerque Aquarium (they are right near each other)
    Sunday - Driving day
    Monday - Utah's Hogle Zoo
    Tuesday - Zoo Boise
    Wednesday - Drive home...boo hoo!

    @ANyhuis: thank you my friend for all of the emails and comments on this thread during the past 39 days! I'll address a few points below:

    - You make an excellent point about gorilla exhibits, as Dallas Zoo has one of the absolute best on the continent but with only 3 of the apes it is gorgeous but empty. On my visit I spent a long time in the air-conditioned viewing area and saw 2 gorillas brieflly and then in the second enclosure just looked at pretty grass for the rest of the time. On the other hand Gladys Porter has a basic wooden jungle gym for the apes but viewing them was a thousand times better and just about my all-time favourite gorilla experience (right up there with Congo Gorilla Forest). Maybe having many apes in a decent exhibit is better than having few apes in an awesome exhibit?

    - We missed "The Alamo" movie because Kylie was along, as an 11-month old in a theater would have had us kicked out in no time at all!:) We enjoyed our visit there, but we still much preferred the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.

    - San Antonio Zoo is nowhere near as bad as literally hundreds upon hundreds of other zoos around the world, but it does resemble Giza Zoo in Egypt. I glanced through the ZooChat gallery of that zoo, and like San Antonio there are many small, rocky enclosures that contain little to no grass. But as I've repeatedly pointed out it seems as if San Antonio is heading in a new direction (do they have new management?) with Africa Live 1, Africa Live 2 and one of the best children's zones of any American zoo. Also, the animal collection is massive, but for an "exhibit guy" like me that establishment certainly needs a few more improvements before I'd revisit it.
     
  4. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @mweb08: you are right on the money with your talk of "more balance on the trip". In 2008 my wife and I visited exactly 30 zoos and aquariums on our epic road trip but we also spent 5 nights in New York City seeing other attractions, 2 nights in Washington D.C., 3 nights in Toronto, 2 nights in Atlanta, and we saw loads of things other than zoos. This time around it has been harder to find non-animal establishments as we'll probably end up seeing about 40 zoos and aquariums in less time. Also, we've spent every night in a different city, and with a baby along for the ride! I think that we both wish that there were a few other attractions to break up the never-ending list of zoos, so in that regard I 100% agree with you! If we ever have the money to embark on another huge road trip my wife and I have agreed to maybe pick the best/favourite zoos and then add in more non-animal attractions.
     
  5. mweb08

    mweb08 Well-Known Member

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    Well that's good and it's truly amazing that you have someone who would even do this type of trip with you. I would guess it would be much easier to limit the zoos next time since you would have already been to all the major ones and almost all of the semi-major ones.
     
  6. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    DAY 40: Friday, August 20th

    After watching soldiers with machine guns, beggars with paper cups, and tiny children racing through traffic asking for spare change, we were left with many impressions after our brief visit to the crime-riddled city of Juarez in the nation of Mexico. I’ve now visited Mexico on 5 occasions (3 of those were one-week holidays while twice I’ve stopped over for only a few hours) and my wife and I are fairly adamant that we’ll never go back again. Having our daughter Kylie in our lives changes many things, and with record-breaking kidnappings and homicides throughout many parts of Mexico it is simply not worth the risk anymore. Juarez literally has close to 2,000 murders a year, making it more dangerous than many cities in Afghanistan and Iraq, and while El Paso in Texas is apparently much safer I’m not convinced as at the zoo there were at least 5 different security guards strolling around the grounds.

    ZOO/AQUARIUM REVIEW #35: El Paso Zoo

    El Paso Zoo’s Website:

    Welcome to the El Paso Zoo | Home to over 220 species of animals from North and South America, Asia and Africa.

    Zoo Map:

    http://www.elpasozoo.org/docs/ELPasoZooMap.pdf

    El Paso Zoo is a zoo that according to its visitor map just increased from 28 acres to 38 acres this year. A 10-acre African area opened in March, and the zoo is now heavily advertised on local billboards, motel brochure outlets, and there is even a two-page review of it in the El Paso tourist guide that was in my motel room. With the addition of an African section this zoo can definitely hold its head high as along with the Americas and Asian sections there are many above average animal exhibits and a well-organized collection on the relatively small grounds. The three continental areas are each about the same size, and including sitting down for a pleasant lunch we spent about 3 hours at the zoo.

    THE BEST:

    Africa – This brand new section of the zoo features 3 large enclosures and several smaller ones, and there is a clear trail that is basically one large loop through the zone. The entire area is new, from the shiny gift shop to the new “Passport Café”, from the ticketing booth to the “El Paso Water Utilities Discovery Center” (only open to private groups). There is a large paddock which on my visit contained 2 African crowned cranes, 2 ostrich and at least 6 Grant’s zebra. This area has a wide boardwalk that curves around the various viewing areas, and a large watering hole adds to the scenic appearance. A lengthy giraffe yard had 4 giraffes on my visit, and it is actually larger than it first appears as it is long and narrow rather than wide like the zebra enclosure.

    The “El Paso Electric Kalahari Research Station” is a building that has lots of literature on conservation programs in Africa, comfy seats, and it also looks out into the very sandy and rather impressive meerkat exhibit. The 4 lions at the zoo have an interestingly-designed habitat, as it contains old-style moats that have ladders that run up the side of the walls. Lots of hotwire is around the edges of the drop, and there are brick-adorned viewing areas with massive windows for the public to get up close and personal with the cats. I wasn’t truly impressed with this exhibit as it is awkward in its design, but the cats didn’t seem to care and they were all lounging right next to the huge windows. My only other complaint about this excellent new area is that it is very open, with little shade and not many trees in the vicinity for either animals or humans.

    This 10-acre African zone is not quite 100% complete, even though it has been open for 5 months now. I actually spoke to more employees at this zoo than any other attraction on this road trip, and I discovered that the two outdoor tortoise enclosures by the meerkat exhibit will be ready for their occupants in about two weeks; there will be a yet-to-be-determined antelope species added to the zebra/ostrich/crane yard; the train track that winds through the African area and the train station are fully constructed, but the train itself will open to the public in October; red river hogs should arrive by February and their exhibit is almost complete. It just needs a backing wall and some landscaping as most of the enclosure is finished, and it is located at the end of the giraffe paddock and directly across from one of the lion viewing windows.

    Asia – This area is lush with thick bushes and towering trees in all directions, and many of the animal exhibits are planted with dense foliage. There is a long, winding paddock with nilgai and blackbuck; impressive grottoes that are actually large and packed with natural substrate for Malayan tigers and sun bears; a beautifully landscaped Sumatran orangutan exhibit that is very good; an Amur leopard enclosure that is long and narrow; lion-tailed macaques have an extremely packed exhibit that is great for the monkeys but lacks viewing opportunities; siamangs have a large island, Malayan tapirs have two yards, and one is directly behind the siamang island; and Asian elephants have a large pool and an average-sized enclosure as well as an Elephant Presentation Yard.

    There is also an Asian Forest Complex with a walk-through indoor jungle with about a dozen species of Asian birds; sand cats in a nicely planted exhibit; a rhinoceros hornbill aviary; and a Burmese rock python enclosure. An Oriental-themed café and private discovery center are quite gorgeous to behold, and I almost preferred this top-notch area to the new African zone. Both sections are comparable to anything found in other major American zoos, and a keeper told me that before the African area opened this year the entire zoo had a minor facelift in terms of cleaning up debris, planting more flowers, and organizing all of the signage on the exhibits.

    THE AVERAGE:

    Americas – There is a California sea lion pool that comes with underwater viewing (if pinniped pools don’t have underwater viewing these days then they could possibly be counted as outdated); prairie dogs in an enclosure with pop-up bubbles; American alligators in tiny, ugly pools; macaws; Mexican gray wolves in a deep grotto; spectacled bears in two lushly planted grottoes that are miles better than the cement parking lots that many other zoos keep their bruins in; Galapagos tortoises; bird of prey aviaries (Swainson’s hawk, Harris’s hawk, barn owl); a spider monkey island; an ocelot enclosure; a walk-through aviary with at least 10 species of South American birds; a South American pavilion (cotton-top tamarins, two-toed sloths, golden lion tamarins, Geoffrey’s marmosets, southern tamandua, rhinoceros iguana, piebald chuckwallas, assorted birds and reptiles); a farmyard-style area (Mexican burro, Navajo-Churro sheep, Santa Cruz sheep); an animal “Hall of Fame” garden that has plaques dedicated to some of the more noteworthy past residents of the zoo; a huge peccary/wild turkey/Bolson tortoise yard and an even larger guanaco/rhea/mara/crested screamer enclosure.

    A new Reptile House (with a roof that is designed to look like a tortoise) is almost ready to be opened to the public. The building has about 21 terrariums (7 on three different sides) that are seen by walking around the structure. It reminds me of a much smaller version of San Diego Zoo’s famous Reptile House, although in El Paso there have only been about 10 of the terrariums filled as it will not be 100% full until the fall.

    THE WORST:

    Other than the alligator enclosures and perhaps the bird of prey aviaries everything at this zoo is of at least average quality.

    OVERALL:

    El Paso Zoo is the third little gem of a zoo that I toured inside the gargantuan state of Texas, along with Cameron Park and Caldwell. All three of those establishments can be seen in around 3 hours, and El Paso is still slightly the smallest of the trio. Hopefully the new African area will put this zoo on the map, as the attractive grounds and lush exhibits make it a must-see destination for anyone who wishes to visit all of the very best zoos in the United States. I was thoroughly impressed with the lack of bars, metal and cement contained within the zoo, and even the grottoes (tiger, sun bear, spectacled bear and wolves) are a hundred times better than many similar pits that I’ve seen in countless other zoos. At least in El Paso there is sunshine over 300 days a year, and the humidity means that almost all of the enclosures are practically overgrown with plant life. It is a pity that the city is so far away from many of the other major Texas zoos, as like Gladys Porter I only know of a couple of people on ZooChat that have ever even visited the place. If a Canadian like me can drive something like 20,000 km around America visiting zoos then perhaps more Texans should make their way over to the small but excellent El Paso Zoo.:)
     
    Last edited: 22 Aug 2010
  7. ANyhuis

    ANyhuis Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I'm one of those who has actually been to the El Paso Zoo, but honestly it's been a number of years ago. Back then (before both the African and Asian areas opened), this zoo was only 8 acres big. It was tiny! Since then, this zoo has doubled in size twice.

    I can really relate to SnowLeopard's feelings about visiting Mexico, but it should be remembered that the most dangerous part of that nation is the USA border region. I visited Mexico City and Guadalajara last year and I felt safe the entire time. But I would never want to visit Juarez, as the SL family just did!
     
  8. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    DAY 41: Saturday, August 21st, Part I


    Today we spent the day in Albuquerque, a large city in the state of New Mexico. While there we visited the Albuquerque Biological Park, a large area that has 4 separate smaller complexes within it. There might be a 5th zone soon, as an Insectarium is under construction (near the Butterfly Pavilion) and I was told that it might require a separate, tiny entrance fee. Then again, it is inside the huge Botanic Garden and perhaps it will be included in the admission price. There is also Tingley Beach, which is free to the public, and then the two attractions that we visited: Rio Grande Zoo and Albuquerque Aquarium. Including sitting around and eating lunch while Kylie crawled around on a huge grassy lawn we spent about 5 hours at the zoo, and then we drove 5 minutes down the road and spent exactly 1 hour in the very nice but extremely tiny aquarium. I’ll review the facilities separately, as they are totally different establishments, and thus this review will be “Part I”.

    ZOO/AQUARIUM REVIEW #36: Rio Grande Zoo

    Rio Grande Zoo’s Website:

    ABQ BioPark Zoo | City of Albuquerque | Cultural Services Department

    Zoo Map:

    http://www.cabq.gov/biopark/zoo/pdf/ZooMap.pdf

    Rio Grande Zoo lacks a spectacular exhibit, and since I am an “exhibit guy” who hates seeing amazing exotic animals in subpar enclosures I was slightly disappointed to tour the zoo and have no habitats to ecstatically gush over. However, there are many decent areas within this zoo and the beautiful grounds and lush scenery made for a terrific day out at yet another animal attraction. One of the hallmarks of this zoo is the beautiful “Cottonwood Park” near the center of it, as there is a huge field with towering trees that is a similar setup to the one found at Audubon Zoo far away in New Orleans. As a fairly new father to an adorable little daughter, I now really appreciate zoos that have a park-like setting that allows folks to lounge on the grass, sit at picnic tables, or let loose their offspring onto vast fields.

    THE BEST:

    Adventure Africa – This area is decent but it lacks a truly outstanding exhibit within its 6 acres. Reticulated giraffes are seen through tribal huts, but the yard for the world’s tallest mammal is smaller than most. A huge zebra/ostrich enclosure is terrific; a white rhino pair of paddocks (or one massive yard if the gate is left open) is very good; at least 9 chimpanzees enjoy an average exhibit that has plenty of huge viewing windows for the public; warthogs, spotted hyenas, cheetahs, African wild dogs and hippos all have nice exhibits with plenty of shady areas; DeBrazza monkeys, klipspringers and red river hogs enjoy fairly spacious enclosures, Ankole cattle are difficult to see through a thick wooden fence, and the most intriguing exhibit of all is a walk-through aviary where humans are on a wooden path that is surrounded by a wire cover. I had 4 Griffon’s vultures directly over my head and almost within touching distance, and there are also marabou storks and another vulture species in the same aviary. An adjacent aviary features hammerkops and saddle-billed storks. The entire African area is pleasant enough, but there is the general feeling that a knockout exhibit is most definitely absent from the area. Also, there is a takin yard in the African section that is certainly out of place but does contain at least 4-5 of the animals, including an energetic youngster.

    Raptor Roost – I was thrilled to see an excellent set of bird aviaries, as bald eagles, golden eagles, crested caracaras, Andean condors and a couple of other birds of prey all reside in absolutely massive aviaries that actually allow the birds to fly a little. Imagine that!

    Bird Exhibits – There are a few really nice bird areas within the zoo’s scenic grounds: Caribbean flamingos on a densely planted island near the entrance; a lush South American yard home to scarlet ibises and a host of other birds (including Stanley cranes); a walk-through parrot section with multiple aviaries; and a decent roadrunner enclosure. Zoos in Houston, Birmingham and San Antonio that have massive bird collections could take a few notes on how to effectively showcase a diverse avian collection.

    Mexican Gray Wolf Exhibit – A massive enclosure for wolves and the zoo has had a lot of breeding success over the years. It is difficult to spot the canids through the thick foliage, but yet again here is an American zoo has a top-notch wolf habitat.

    THE AVERAGE:

    Koala Creek – Two koalas sleeping in trees doing what koalas do best, some wallabies (there was zero signage to explain what species they were); a lorikeet aviary that is currently closed for renovation; a future enclosure for saltwater crocodiles that has barely begun to be built (I saw the two estuarine crocs in the reptile house); the custom-built Tasmanian devil exhibit for tassies that will never arrive (red river hogs are in there!); a walk-through budgie encounter; carpet python, wompoo doves, kookaburras, cockatoos, an aquarium with colourful fish, a snake-headed turtle and a nearby echidna enclosure round out the area.

    Asian Elephant Exhibit – There is a massive new pool that can be clearly seen through a visitor viewing station, and the enclosure stretches around to include a second elevated viewing area. There is a third yard in the background that featured a couple of bull elephants, and the barn appears to be quite large as well but those areas are difficult to see. There is a sign that boldly declares that the entire area available to the elephants is 5.5 acres, which I find incredibly unrealistic, based on what I could see. However, the zoo has been constructing a larger space for the elephants, and there is still ongoing construction in the back ground of the now huge enclosure. Bactrian camels have a nearby chain-link yard that offers up little to the imagination.

    Inukshuk Bay – A standard polar bear exhibit that is actually pretty good for the bears, as there are two pools and lots of rocky outcrops along with enormous underwater viewing windows.

    Seals/Sea Lion Exhibit – California sea lion/harbor seal/grey seal mix in a large pool that I’ve seen a hundred times before. The different species and huge underwater viewing panels are nice touches. Somewhat bizarrely there is a very good black-tailed prairie dog exhibit nearby.

    Tropical America – An indoor rainforest with prehensile-tailed porcupines, golden lion tamarins, cotton-top tamarins, stingrays, spider monkeys and many species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. This pales in comparison to the mega-jungles in other American zoos, but taken on its own it is of average quality. There is an average-sized capybara enclosure directly outside the building, and an excellent Aldabra tortoise exhibit around the corner.

    South American Loop – There is a Wolf’s guenon corn-crib cage here; howler monkeys and ground hornbills in lush, mesh exhibits; and a variety of birds including two areas for helmeted curassows.

    Ape Country – Orangutans have an average yard that looks a little worn around the edges; a gorilla troop of at least 9 has two different yards to rotate in, but both areas feature wooden jungle gyms and are essentially long, narrow grottoes that remind me of similar gorilla enclosures at San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park and Cincinnati Zoo. No matter how active this troop is their exhibits are definitely lacking many hiding spots and are subpar in today’s world of multi-acre ape habitats. Siamangs have the best enclosure in this part of the zoo, as they have a huge exhibit that features mesh viewing but also a cool suspension bridge that allows visitors to get extra close to the apes.

    Gator Swamp – A tiny area with juvenile alligators and naked mole rats, and this small zone is not really even worth visiting.

    Night Animals – After viewing an echidna cave (a brutally small exhibit with little natural substrate) visitors enter a long, creepy, well-designed cave that promises a lot but instead offers up very little. A slow loris exhibit, a pygmy slow loris exhibit, a Micronesian kingfisher exhibit…and that’s all folks. Disappointing.

    THE WORST:

    Cat Walk – This area is sad, as there are two large but dull grottoes for Bengal tigers and lions, and the tiger exhibit is the larger of the two but it also features a tremendous amount of concrete for the cats to walk on. There is a long row of exhibits that all have brutal viewing areas, as cage after cage has black metal wiring across the front of it. Species here include: jaguar (two enclosures with one yellow cat and one black cat); mountain lion; snow leopard (I saw a mother with 3 cubs that were only 9 weeks old); ocelot; bobcat; red panda; binturong; rock hyrax and meerkat. There is also an emu/red kangaroo yard, and the entire area lacks a decent exhibit and is really a mish-mash of different animals. Whatever the zoo has extra of they probably just chuck into one of the cages whenever one of the former occupants dies.

    Reptile House – This is easily the worst reptile house on the road trip in terms of presentation of the animals. There is a great collection at the Rio Grande Zoo, including a nice pair of komodo dragon exhibits, but the ugly green walls within the reptile/amphibian building feature peeling paint on every single exhibit. I checked and found that at each terrarium there is some kind of ugly crack or lack of paint on the wall, and thus the imagery of seeing wonderful cold-blooded animals is destroyed. There were at least 3 empty terrariums on my visit, and the entire building would look a thousand times better with cleaner glass, a new paintjob, and some updated graphics. I’ve seen many great reptile houses in southern zoos, but here the zoo might as well just toss some tuataras into a cardboard box and nail some chicken wire over the top.

    THE FUTURE:

    There are a lot of minor construction projects going on at the zoo:
    -The old Arctic fox enclosure next to the polar bear exhibit is empty and being renovated
    -The walk-through lorikeet aviary in the Australian section is also empty and being renovated
    -There is a construction zone for the new saltwater crocodile pools in the Aussie zone, but I did see the crocs in their spacious indoor holding areas next to the Reptile House.
    -There is a messy area that appears to be under construction next to the sea lion pool, as the zoo no longer has camel rides in that yard
    -A brand new entrance is being constructed alongside the current entrance, but it will be used only for school groups and large gatherings of people
    -There is still ongoing work on the Asian elephant yards, and maybe that is why there is a sign up stating that the elephants have access to 5.5 acres
    -There are future Asian exhibits planned across from the elephants, but there is no confirmation of what animals will be placed there.
    -Between the polar bears and Mexican gray wolves is a large area with a sign up stating that a new zone is being built for “Endangered Southwestern Species”

    OVERALL:

    Rio Grande Zoo is definitely worth visiting, and as one can tell from the 8 construction projects that I listed there are signs of improvements all over the grounds. It is a decently-sized zoo, and it is definitely got a splendid animal collection that takes at least 4-5 hours to see. However, as I’ve pointed out in my extensive review the zoo really does lack anything that would be considered a knockout exhibit, and even the best that is on offer (Adventure Africa, Raptor Roost) are exhibit complexes that would be considered average at the top American zoos. Even with all of the construction projects there isn’t anything that seems to be able to put this zoo firmly on the map. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a very average zoo, but if Rio Grande can persuade the Australian government to finally send them some Tasmanian devils then every American ZooChatter would head straight to Albuquerque, New Mexico!
     
  9. ANyhuis

    ANyhuis Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    OK, SnowLeopard, first you sound like you are breaking some news with your "will never arrive" statement, but then you sound like there's still some hope. Are you just being pessimistic, or did you hear something about the status of the Taz devil program? As of a year ago, I was told they were still working on bringing them in.
     
  10. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @ANyhuis: a zoo employee told Debbie and I that the opportunity of devils coming to Rio Grande Zoo is "dead in the water". I distinctly remember the conversation because of the memorable phrase that she used, and that same employee told us that the saltwater crocodile exhibit has been "under construction" for close to 2 years. From my visit it seems as if the exhibit is only about 5% complete, as almost nothing has been done except a clearing of the area. In regards to the devils, with the cancerous facial tumors exterminating Tasmanian devils one would think that the Australian government would be much more willing to send some of the animals to at least 20 zoos around the world in order to preserve the population but nothing much has happened at this point in time.

    DAY 41: Saturday, August 21st, Part II

    Today we spent the day in Albuquerque, a large city in the state of New Mexico. While there we visited the Albuquerque Biological Park, a large area that has 4 separate smaller complexes within it. There might be a 5th zone soon, as an Insectarium is under construction (near the Butterfly Pavilion) and I was told that it might require a separate, tiny entrance fee. Then again, it is inside the huge Botanic Garden and perhaps it will be included in the admission price. There is also Tingley Beach, which is free to the public, and then the two attractions that we visited: Rio Grande Zoo and Albuquerque Aquarium. Including sitting around and eating lunch while Kylie crawled around on a huge grassy lawn we spent about 5 hours at the zoo, and then we drove 5 minutes down the road and spent exactly 1 hour in the very nice but extremely tiny aquarium. I’ll review the facilities separately, as they are totally different establishments, and thus this review will be “Part II”.

    ZOO/AQUARIUM REVIEW #37: Albuquerque Aquarium

    Albuquerque Aquarium’s Website:

    ABQ BioPark Aquarium | City of Albuquerque | Cultural Services Department

    Aquarium Map:

    http://www.cabq.gov/biopark/aquarium/pdf/AquariumandBotanicGardenMap.pdf

    Albuquerque Aquarium is a well-organized establishment that only takes about an hour to visit. It is a 5 minute drive from the Rio Grande Zoo, and it was amusing to see so many people that I recognized from both attractions. Every single exhibit inside the aquarium is quite impressive, but the lack of size makes it a pleasant but not especially noteworthy addition to the canon of American aquariums. In my review I will simply list off the main areas of the establishment and provide a brief synopsis of each.

    Aquarium Exhibits (in order on the map):

    Rio Grande – local fish tank with an “automobile theme”, meaning that hubcaps and car parts are in the water with the animals.

    Theater – small area showing aquatic documentaries.

    Trout Stream – tank with trout!

    Model Ships – A special exhibition of model ships in a separate room.

    Salt Marsh – small and unmemorable tank with coastline fish.

    Gulf Coast – a massive backdrop of a pier with a single mid-sized tank of fish from the Gulf of Mexico.

    Shrimp Boat – this is the only outdoor section of the aquarium, and it features zero animals but instead a large rusting fishing boat with a small-town façade in the background. An enclosed shorebirds aviary would have fit in well here.

    Shallows & Shores – an impressive tank with plenty of stingrays and various other fish that inhabit shallow waters.

    Surf Zone – Fish that come into contact with swimmers in slightly deeper waters in comparison to the shallows.

    Coral Reef – a magnificent, floor-to-ceiling tank that is quite spectacular. It features a dizzying array of fish found in coral reefs.

    Eel Cave – the obligatory walk-through underwater tunnel, but this one stands out because there are at least 10 massive eels (of various species) in all the nooks and crannies of the mock-rock, plus several species of large fish.

    Pacific Preview – a series of smaller tanks with seahorses, a giant clam and a couple of other Pacific Ocean species.

    Jellies – about a thousand moon jellies in a large central tank, and some Japanese sea nettles in a side exhibit.

    Shipwreck – a realistic depiction of a small section of a doomed ship, complete with swirling fish.

    Ocean/Sharks – probably the feature attraction of the entire aquarium, as sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks, a couple of other shark species and a huge variety of fish swim in a massive, enchanting tank. A sea turtle is also found here, even though it is not noted on any of the signage.

    OVERALL:

    Albuquerque Aquarium has nothing but excellent exhibits, especially the Eel Cave, Oceans/Sharks and Coral Reef tanks. There is nothing to criticize at this aquarium, but the small size means that the only reason to visit for an out-of-towner is the close proximity to the Rio Grande Zoo.
     
  11. ANyhuis

    ANyhuis Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    One can only hope. But the Australian government has been notoriously stingy with their feature wildlife, in particular koalas and platypuses. This is why all koalas in the USA are (if I've got this right) from either the San Diego or Los Angeles stock of koalas -- which came from Australia many decades ago. This also is why I've been to 228 zoological institutions and I've NEVER seen a duck-billed platypus. They can only be seen in Austrailia. But as for the Taz devils, it should be noted that Australia is in the process of putting together a new government. Maybe the new coalition will be more cooperative and more focused on saving this species.

    The frustrations, by the way, of dealing with this foreign government are also going on at the Oakland Zoo, where they've been trying to get permission from the Chinese to bring in a pair of giant pandas. They've had the exhibit ready for them for over 3 years.
     
  12. Ituri

    Ituri Well-Known Member

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    Not entirely true, Riverbanks and Albuquerque were both given gifts of koalas, and Albuquerque's animals are the ONLY Victorian koalas in the US, all the rest are the Queensland subspecies.
     
  13. Ituri

    Ituri Well-Known Member

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    Phoenix
    Interesting that the "Arctic Fox" exhibit is still under construction. There was an empty space near polar bears with a sign saying "coming soon, Arctic fox" when I visited nearly 10 years ago!

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it, I've always felt that Rio Grande was a very pleasant zoo to spend time in.
     
  14. ANyhuis

    ANyhuis Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    1,236
    Location:
    Indianapolis, IN
    You should thank some Higher Power (God, your "lucky stars", whatever) that your precious family was not hurt in Juarez! If you look at the following story, on the very weekend that you entered this death zone, the city of Juarez was in the midst of one of its most violent weekends ever! Over the weekend, 51 people were killed in Juarez, including 24 on Sunday alone. On Friday (the day of your visit), 2 policemen were killed in a shootout. Some of the gunfire could be heard across the River in El Paso, and at least one stray bullet crossed the US border.

    51 people killed in Juárez over weekend - El Paso Times
     
  15. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Location:
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    DAY 42: Sunday, August 22nd

    No zoo/aquarium review today, but now having seen a staggering 37 such attractions on this epic journey I think that we’re entitled to a day off. The road trip has officially hit the 6-week mark, and it is now beginning to sadly wind down to its inevitable conclusion.

    We decided to visit “Aztec Ruins National Monument” in northwestern New Mexico, and it turned out to be an inspired choice. In 2003 I spent time in Italy and toured the ruins at Pompeii, and the Aztec Ruins are similar except on a much smaller scale. Admission is $5 per person and it is run by the National Parks program of the United States. We spent just under 2 hours touring the site that once held almost 500 rooms, and there are over a dozen rooms both above and underground that are allowed to be walked through by tourists.

    The ruins feature several “kivas”, which are ceremonial rooms used by ancient Pueblo people (not actually Aztecs as the name is a misnomer) for religious rituals. There is a fascinating series of deep underground chambers that feature many intriguing elements that are still unknown to archeologists. The ruins are close to 1,000 years old and in my humble opinion are fantastic to tour!

    Aztec Ruins National Monument website:

    Aztec Ruins National Monument (U.S. National Park Service)

    Here is a terrific overhead image of the ancient site:

    Google Image Result for http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/images-3/300_00_2.jpg
     
  16. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Final 3 days of the road trip:

    Tuesday: Utah’s Hogle Zoo + drive almost 5 hours to Boise, Idaho
    Wednesday: Zoo Boise + drive a few hours
    Thursday: Drive home! (it is 10 hours from Boise to Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada…and so we will knock off a few hours on Wednesday and then complete the epic trek on Thursday)
    Friday: Recuperate after visiting 39 zoos and aquariums, plus many other attractions, in exactly 46 days. Another massive summer road trip will be at an end.

    DAY 43: Monday, August 23rd

    A second straight day with no zoo/aquarium review, but we did tour the awesome Arches National Park in southeastern Utah. My wife and I actually spent time travelling through both Zion and Arches National Parks in May of 2006, and we love the amazing geography of the state of Utah. In fact, Utah might be one of the prettiest of all 50 American states (and I’ve visited them all) and it is right up there with Alaska and Arizona for me.

    Arches National Park can take a week to properly examine, as there are over 2,000 rocky arches and multiple foothills, mountains, hiking trails and even a small herd of 50 rarely seen bighorn sheep. Since we now have a little 11-month old baby along with us we ventured out on a couple of easy walking trails but spent the majority of the time in the minivan and we drove around and took many photos for just over 2 hours.

    Arches National Park website:

    Arches National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

    Google image of “Delicate Arch”:

    Google Image Result for http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/Delicate_Arch_2005_09_04_sunset.JPEG

    Google image of “Balanced Rock”:

    Google Image Result for http://stephentrainor.com/images/_photos/balanced_rock_l.jpg
     
  17. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Location:
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    DAY 44: Tuesday, August 24th

    ZOO/AQUARIUM REVIEW #38: Utah’s Hogle Zoo

    Hogle Zoo’s Website:

    https://www.hoglezoo.org/

    Zoo Map:

    https://www.hoglezoo.org/docs/pdfs/09_Map_lg.pdf

    Utah’s Hogle Zoo deserves to be in the book “America’s Best Zoos”, but I’d personally rank it somewhere between #55 to #60 of the very best of U.S. zoological establishments. There are many mediocre exhibits, a lot of wasted space around the grounds, and yet there is one outstanding area called “Asian Highlands” that offers zoo visitor’s close-up encounters with 5 cat species within the confines of a Himalayan village. That area is so impressive that any cat lover should immediately tour this zoo, and there are a total of 11 cat species at Hogle. The good news about the zoo is that it has broken its all-time attendance record for the past 4 consecutive years (over 1 million visitors in 2009) and there are ambitious plans for the future. “Rocky Shores” is due to open in spring of 2012 and several of the older exhibits will be demolished within the next year.

    THE BEST:

    Asian Highlands – Anyone who adores thematic exhibit complexes will love this section of the zoo, and it is by far and away the best attraction at Hogle. Every building is constructed with stone bricks, and there is a cool new Asian-themed eating establishment called the “Cat Wok Café” where my wife and I had steaming teriyaki chicken rice bowls while we stared out at the surrounding mountains. Prayer flags, a well-designed “Grandma’s House” with Nepalese and Tibetan artifacts, bicycles, paintings and other tiny details all combine to create the feeling that one is strolling through a village in Tibet or Nepal. The Utah mountainside aids in the immersive context of the area, and this 2006 exhibit complex is borderline spectacular.

    There are 5 cat habitats there: an Amur leopard exhibit that is rocky, steep, and naturalistic and easily amongst the best of its kind; an average-sized Amur tiger enclosure that is also built upon a steep slope; an above-average, lushly planted snow leopard habitat; and realistic but standard exhibits for Pallas’ cats and Siberian lynxes. The 3 tigers on show (all one-year old cubs) jumped in the water, ran around their enclosure, ventured over the heads of visitors on a wide walkway, and created havoc with each other in their netted exhibit. The entire area is almost flawless, other than tiny complaints such as the tigers can also be seen from the back of their enclosure and thus they lack a little privacy, and of course one can always point out that the exhibits could always be a tad larger. Overall this is an awesome addition to the zoo and one of the best cat complexes at any American zoo. It is certainly far superior to “Big Cat Falls” at the Philadelphia Zoo, which is another recently constructed cat complex that is good but not great like “Asian Highlands”.

    Primate Forest – This area was completed in 1997 and features 3 large, lush, outdoor netted enclosures for colobus monkeys, spider monkeys, and Francois + Hanuman langurs. All 3 habitats are beautiful and allow for lots of space, and there is an indoor area for brown capuchin monkeys, as well as a smaller indoor/outdoor exhibit for a troop of golden lion tamarins.

    THE AVERAGE:

    Great Apes – I believe that the indoor viewing building was built in the 1960’s, but the outdoor enclosures were added in later decades and feature one area for orangutans and one for gorillas. Both exhibits feature wooden jungle gyms and lush foliage, but visitors look down upon the apes and it is difficult to get great viewing opportunities. These two exhibits are more than adequate and feature lots of vegetation, but they need more apes and better visitor areas.

    Discovery Land – This is the children’s section of the zoo, and for kids it is top-notch as there is a train, large playground, a fantastic burrowing tunnel that has pop-up bubbles in the rabbit, skunk and prairie dog enclosures; a huge waterfowl pond with trumpeter swans and at least 8 more species of birds; a farmyard zone with Angora goats and Navajo sheep; a bison paddock that can be only viewed via the train ride; side habitats for Chacoan peccaries and cougars; and a desert region with enclosures for ocelots, Channel Island foxes and many smaller animals in terrariums.

    The flaws in this area are these: the glare on the glass in the Desert region is so atrocious that the small terrariums are difficult to see into; the ocelot and fox exhibits are tiny and about 12 feet across and maybe 12 feet wide; and cougars are shy and secretive cats and yet the noisy train clatters by about 6 feet from their exhibit. Overall this area of the zoo is better than most, and there is also a small discovery theatre that has daily animal presentations.

    Small Animal Building – This old building has a small walk-through jungle area at its center that features free-roaming two-toed sloths, green iguanas and at least ten species of birds. There are 3 long, curving hallways of exhibits (Tropics, Temperate, Desert), with many reptiles and amphibians on the inside walls in attractive terrariums. The outer walls of the galleries have a long list of intriguing creatures in average to poor enclosures. Many of the glass tanks are simply much too small for their inhabitants, and here is a partial list of species: Arabian wild cat, sand cat, black-footed cat, meerkat, mara, rock cavy, cottontail rabbit, bat-eared fox, Siamese crocodile (indoor viewing), African-crested porcupine, cotton-top tamarin, two-toed sloth, Wied’s marmoset and rock hyrax.

    Nature’s Nightmares – This exhibit area is found in the zoo’s old “Tropical Rainforest” building, and every year the zoo features a rotating set of animals and a new theme. There has been a white alligator display, a Madagascar-themed area, and this year there are king vultures, bats, spiders, millipedes, piranhas, scorpions, centipedes and other “nightmares” in basic terrariums. I was told that there are rumors that this aging building might be demolished in favour of expanding the zoo’s main restaurant (“The Beastro”) but I heard that from a volunteer employee and thus nothing has been confirmed at this point. It actually isn’t such a bad idea for the zoo to have a new exhibit area every year within an ancient structure, as there was certainly a line-up of people right when the building opened a full hour after the zoo opened.

    THE WORST:

    Elephant Encounter – The decision to place this relatively new exhibit complex (2005) into my “worst” category will definitely shock some folks, but it is thoroughly deserving of its placement. The entire area is apparently 2 acres in size, and the visitor zones are top-notch. There is close-up viewing of both the 3 African elephants and 2 white rhinos, and the “African Lodge” building has pachyderm artifacts and a cool, noisy, full-sized statue of an elephant that had kids lined up to touch. The pool for the elephants is also terrific, but if one peers closely at this area past all of the bells and whistles then it is shocking at how tiny the space is allocated for the elephants.

    The downside to the exhibit is that there is an elderly, 50 year-old female elephant in one habitat and the 24 year-old mother of 1 year-old “Zuri” in the second habitat. I’m not sure if the elephants rotate or not, but I visited that area twice and throughout the day the mother and baby were in the puny, ridiculously tiny encounter area. If that enclosure were used strictly for demonstrations then that is perfectly fine, but at the elephant talk a keeper said that the two elephants mainly live in that tiny area. The larger enclosure with the nice pool is also far too small, and of all the AZA-accredited zoos with elephants off of the top of my head I think that Hogle has the second smallest elephant exhibit of any zoo. Only Audubon has a tinier enclosure for the world’s largest mammal, and so it is a major surprise that “Elephant Encounter” was just built 5 years ago as in my opinion it is already well past its due date and amongst the smallest of its kind in all of North America. The two white rhinos are fairly old and in their mid-30’s, and they also have one very tiny rhino yard because so much of their space is taken up with visitor viewing areas and mock-rock backdrops. What should be done is the zoo should keep only one of the species, and that would effectively double their living space.

    Primate Building – This ancient monstrosity is ugly as hell, stinky as a peccary and in desperate need of some loving care via a bulldozer. Mandrills have an iron-barred cage that is painfully small, black howler monkeys have a similar metal cage, black-and-white ruffed lemurs, ring-tailed lemurs and Schmidt’s guenons all are in either outdoor metal cages or inside mock-rock nightmares. The whole place is disgustingly outdated, and even the white-handed gibbons seemed embarrassed to be found in such a hellhole.

    Random Enclosures – There are odds n’ ends exhibits scattered all around the zoo, and almost none of them are very impressive. Tiny metal bird aviaries with macaws, bald eagles, various parrots and even a black-and-white ruffed lemur are all in need of removal as they are nothing but eyesores; an African black-footed penguin pool, llama yard, red panda exhibit (that one is okay), bobcat cage and Aldabra/leopard tortoise enclosure are all lumped together in one random zone and all are being bulldozed by next year. I’d never seen Aldabra tortoises being exhibited behind chain-link fencing, as usually there is barely any kind of barrier, and the ugly fencing made it one brutally difficult enclosure to be able to properly see the animals. There are signs up detailing the fact that some of the animals will be moving to different AZA institutions in the future, and that their exhibits will be completely razed to make way for “Rocky Shores”.

    Also around the zoo is a puny and badly antiquated giraffe yard; a pair of desert bighorn sheep/wild turkey enclosures with chain-link fencing; more chain-link for gray wolves; a cement Bactrian camel yard; red kangaroos and Bennett’s wallabies behind ugly chain-link and rare Siamese crocodiles outside in a tiny pool.

    THE FUTURE:

    “Rocky Shores” is under construction and due to open in spring of 2011, and I was told that the llama, red panda, penguin, bobcat and Aldabra tortoise enclosures are all going to be bulldozed within a year. Signs up at the zoo state that the exhibits will in fact be completely razed in order to make way for polar bears, seals, and possibly foxes, owls, wolves and whatever else the zoo finalizes as a species list. Two old bear grottoes have already been partially destroyed (hooray!!) and an employee told me that the African Savanna area might also face the bulldozer. On my visit the Grevy’s zebras had departed the zoo, the only cheetah had also left for another zoo, and the Egyptian geese, ostrich and springbok all were in the old cheetah yard. A large-scale African Savanna is the next project after the Arctic zone, and it will likely go near where the Bactrian camel/great ape area is located, with the camel yard to be bulldozed and the ape building to receive a massive overhaul.

    I’ve seen the schematic drawings for “Rocky Shores” on the zoo’s website, and I have a sneaky suspicion that the zoo might have to opt for grizzly bears instead of polar bears for the exhibit, and the last I heard was that perhaps the zoo might have both species and possibly rotate them through two different habitats. Kansas City Zoo just opened a brand-new polar bear complex this summer, and they even had a sign up pointing out that they were only able to obtain a single male bear due to the scarcity of the species in North American zoos.

    OVERALL:

    Before “Elephant Encounter” Hogle Zoo hadn’t opened a major, large-scale exhibit in over 25 years, and that fact becomes apparent once one has toured the grounds. Old buildings for great apes, small animals, rotating exhibits and primates are well past their due date and if those 4 creaking structures are not demolished then millions of dollars should be spent in refurbishing and updating them to the standards of 21st century, modern zoos. “Asian Highlands” is so impressive that it makes the zoo worthwhile, but after that area there is a lot of mediocrity across the grounds. With record-breaking attendance and a new, multi-million dollar Arctic region set to open in a year and a half at least the future is looking bright, but there still needs to be a total overhaul of many of the main buildings.

    By demolishing exhibits for black bears, llamas, red pandas, penguins, tortoises, bobcats and possibly African animals then “Rocky Shores” is obviously ridding the zoo of many randomly assorted animals in subpar enclosures. Hopefully the new area will be as terrific as “Asian Highlands”, as then perhaps Hogle Zoo can begin to systematically create world-class exhibit complexes to go along with its decent animal collection. With a new entrance, gift shop, train station, guest services area and events pavilion all being unveiled to the public in 2001, a wildlife theater in 2004, a children’s carousel in 2008 and beginning an annual Christmas themed “Zoolights” display in 2007 the zoo has made great strides in pleasing the many visitors that enjoy the establishment by adding amenities for humans. With the addition of “Asian Highlands” and the upcoming “Rocky Shores” perhaps the zoo will begin to focus even more attentively on its animal inhabitants.
     
  18. elephantking

    elephantking Well-Known Member

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    once the rhinos die there yard will become an elephant yard
     
  19. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Location:
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    DAY 45: Wednesday, August 25th

    ZOO/AQUARIUM REVIEW #39: Zoo Boise

    Zoo Boise’s Website:

    Home

    Zoo Map:

    http://www.zooboise.org/assets/content/docs/zooboisemap_highres.pdf

    This will be the 39th and final zoo/aquarium review for this epic summer 2010 journey across exactly 34 American States (and also into Mexico!). It is somewhat ironic that after visiting so many top-notch, huge U.S. zoos I began and ended the trip with tiny Zoo Montana and small Zoo Boise. It is tough to compare such minor establishments with the big guns of the zoological world, and Zoo Boise only has about 200 animals and can be toured in less than 2.5 hours.

    Even though Zoo Boise is a small and fairly unremarkable zoo there was a magical moment that occurred while there. My wife Debbie’s all-time favourite animal is the red panda, and she collects stuffed red pandas and adores seeing them in zoos. Now after visiting 120 different zoos and aquariums for the very first time EVER we saw a baby red panda today! A 6-week old red/greyish puffball was being dragged around its enclosure by the scruff of its neck by its agitated mother, and quite a crowd assembled in front of the exhibit. We stayed there for at least 20 minutes, until the mother red panda calmed down and zoo keepers (who were on standby) decided not to intervene to salvage a potentially disastrous situation. Even at the smallest zoos there are moments of intrigue and tension, and later on in the day when we checked back in at the exhibit the area was closed to the public.

    Another highlight was meeting fellow ZooChatter “Ituri”, as he and I have exchanged a number of emails over the past couple of years. It was great to meet him in person, as he was kind enough to come down to the zoo on his one-hour lunch break, eat with us and also tour my family and I around a section of the zoo. We learned that there are ambitious plans for an overhaul of the Asian precinct, but construction will not begin until finances are in place and that could still be years down the road. Meeting “Ituri” brought the number of ZooChatters that we’ve met on this trip up to 5, and it is always terrific to meet new friends who share a common passion.

    THE BEST:

    There is nothing at Zoo Boise that deserves a place in my “best” category, but I feel that it is important to point out that this small zoo has a commendable focus on conservation, and each visitor (member or not) pays an additional 35 cents that goes entirely towards a new conservation focus each year. Also, there are feeding stations in the farmyard area and a boat ride where the funds also go strictly towards worldwide conservation areas.

    THE AVERAGE:

    African Plains Exhibit – An average-sized lion exhibit features 3 of the large cats, and while the enclosure is basic the viewing opportunities are very impressive; two male giraffes have a spacious barn and large paddock to roam; there are at least 3 servals in a tiny cage that is far too small; Grevy’s zebras have a dusty paddock; ground squirrels have a densely planted wire cage; rock hyrax and bat-eared fox have side-by-side outdoor enclosures that are decent; and the African “Gathering Place” plaza contains a schoolhouse (with additional lion viewing and small terrariums), a market café, a village granary, a thatch house and a ranger station. The real highlight for me was seeing a group of Visayan warty pigs (only about 10 American zoos have them in their collection), and striped hyenas (I’ve only seen them in a couple of zoos ever) in a rocky enclosure that formally held bighorn sheep before the hyenas arrived at the zoo. Nearby are small enclosures for maras and a North American porcupine, along with a tiny building with frogs, snakes, bats and elephant shrews.

    Aviaries – A set of fairly ugly yet immensely tall aviaries hold sarus cranes, barn owls, pheasants, hawks, Andean condors and a few other birds. These old-school aviaries are nothing spectacular in terms of viewing opportunities for visitors, but they are indeed much larger than similar aviaries at other zoos.

    Animals of Asia – Tigers have an average yard that offers up glass viewing; red pandas have a decent enclosure but are separated from visitors by ugly black metal; llamas and sika deer share a paddock that is looked down upon from high up above; an elderly Amur leopard has a good-sized enclosure that is mainly viewed through wire; a farmyard setting with very active goats is bizarrely placed and is apparently a hit with young children; prevost’s squirrels have a small wire and wood enclosure; a binturong has perhaps the nicest exhibit of all; and a snow leopard exhibit is small but grassy on one side while being a cement eyesore on the other.

    Wallaby Walkabout – A converted aviary is now home to 6 wallabies that enjoy lounging around while visitors stick to the small pathway that snakes through the large cage.

    THE WORST:

    Primate House – Of all the truly dreadful primate houses that I have had the misfortune to tour on this epic road trip (Cheyenne Mountain, Tulsa, Cleveland, Milwaukee, etc) none are as awful as this one. Ring-tailed lemurs, capuchin monkeys, patas monkeys and white-handed gibbons are some of the primates on display, and this building should have been bulldozed into dust many years ago.

    Bear Pit – A fairly young sloth bear has a typical pit to live in, and it is similar to many other horrid grottoes that I’ve seen on this trip.

    Penguin Pavilion – There are 11 African black-footed penguins in one of the tiniest penguin exhibits that I’ve ever seen, and arguably also one of the ugliest. However, there is underwater viewing so all is not lost here.

    Small American Animals – Fairly tiny enclosures for these species: coati, bobcat, ocelot, along with some nearby aviaries make for an uninteresting section of exhibits that are far too small.

    Small Animal Kingdom – There is a decent prairie dog enclosure with pop-up bubbles just outside of this area, and the winding pathway leads to many intriguing animals that live in tiny exhibits. I didn’t realize that “small animal kingdom” also meant “small little enclosures”! A huge male komodo dragon has an outdoor yard that is perhaps twice as long as his body; an Aldabra tortoise yard is about the size of a large bathroom; meerkats have a nondescript exhibit; African crested porcupines, Malayan chevrotains and various snakes (such as kingsnake and rock python), lizards, black-handed spider monkeys, cotton-top tamarins, sloths and other critters are in and around a mini-rainforest building, but while the animals are great to see their habitats leave a lot to be desired.

    OVERALL:

    Zoo Boise is not a zoo that anyone should drive out of their way to see, as there is nothing spectacular about the establishment whatsoever. We visited it because it was directly on our way home, we wanted to finally meet “Ituri”, and we were intrigued by the rare animals such as striped hyenas, elephant shrews and Visayan warty pigs. It is yet another small zoo that shows promise, but a massive injection of cash will be needed before extensive changes can be implemented.
     
  20. Ituri

    Ituri Well-Known Member

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    Posts:
    3,193
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    Phoenix
    Snowleopard,

    It was great meeting you and your family today and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time. It was interesting being at the very end of your trip, so I got to hear about your experiences at the many varied zoos and aquariums you've done on this trip. I'm also really glad the red panda cub was out for you guys, that really was a special treat to see such a young red panda.

    Just one minor note on your review, the penguins on display are Magellanic penguins, not African penguins.

    Safe travels the rest of the way home, and I'm looking forward to the massive photo upload that is imminent.