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Snowleopard's Epic Road Trip

Discussion in 'United States' started by snowleopard, 2 Jul 2008.

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  1. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I have taken the advice of ZooBeat member "Boof" and decided to post my road trip notes under a brand new thread. Otherwise it might get confusing for members if I review zoos under their separate threads, and then there will be many postings on a variety of different subjects. I've already had at least 3 responses on the Minnesota Zoo thread, as well as 2 private messages, and so there is obviously some interest in the road trip itinerary. It is slow going posting photos into the gallery from my laptop, and so those might filter in slowly but surely as the weeks fly by. More than likely the vast bulk of the photos will be uploaded towards the end of August. My wife literally took over 300 shots at the Minnesota Zoo, including over 50 of the brand new, $30 million "Russia's Grizzly Coast" set of exhibits. Don't worry, in due time I'll post a sampling of all of those photos...but for now the detailed review of that zoo will have to suffice.

    My wife and I have already driven through British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada, and we have already been through North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa (briefly) and I type this on my laptop in a Wisonsin motel. We are taking a short drive down to Chicago today, and as long as we can find a cheap motel then we'll be there for 3 nights. We have tentative plans to visit the John G. Shedd Aquarium, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Brookfield Zoo, as all three are found in the city of Chicago.

    Any questions in regards to this epic, 20+ zoo road trip should be placed here and I'll answer them when I have free time at the end of the day.

    Here's the first review, which has already been posted on its own thread.


    Minnesota Zoo Review: July 1st, 2008

    My wife took over 300 photos at the zoo today, and I'll probably be posting them towards the end of August once we arrive back from our epic road trip of 20 or more zoos. There is a small chance that I'll post them earlier, but I don't want to spend much time on my laptop when there are zoos out there to see! Hahaha...

    "Russia's Grizzly Coast" - is quite simply a superb addition to this interesting zoo. The Central Park Plaza is terrific, with a beautiful fountain, lots of metallic animal figures on the grounds, a gift shop, a covered sitting area, a food cafe, etc. I can see that $5 million was well spent on this portion of the zoo, and on a scorching day there were many kids exploring the mini-waterpark.

    An offshoot of the plaza is where the other $25 million was spent, and for the most part it is magnificent. The entrance is full of plaques and various signs instructing the zoo visitors about the importance of conservation in Russia and elsewhere around the world. The walkway is on a soft rubbery floor, and that continues through the first couple of exhibits. The sea otter enclosure is the best that I've ever seen, and a number of zoos and aquariums showcase these delightful otters in North America. There were 4 sea otters all rolling around in their watery exhibit, and the landscape in the background is gorgeous. There is a massive viewing window with plenty of seats, rocky terrain for land, and plenty of toys, rocks and logs in the water for the otters to mess around with. A beautiful exhibit that should be copied in other institutions.

    The 3 grizzly bears have another outstanding enclosure, and it is one that will give Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo a run for its money in terms of North America's best grizzly habitat. One of the bears spent the entire 30 minutes that I was there in the water, fishing in vain but splashing around and shaking his head impressively. Another bear was enticed to play with some logs in the background, and every few minutes a geyser of water was shot into the air in the spacious and well-laid out exhibit. The third bear ambled around, dug in the sand pit, and basically ignored the first two bears. It's difficult to tell how far back the habitat goes, but with the large viewing windows, spacious area for visitors and beautifully landscaped backdrop one can almost picture themselves on the Russian coastline! This enclosure is stunning and I have tons of photos to upload to justify my thoughts.

    The wild boar enclosure is satisfactory but nothing special. Half of it is covered with a mesh wall (which is awkward) but the second half has no mesh and allows for great photos. The one disappointment of the new exhibits is the trio of amur leopard cages. Two of the leopards were hiding and invisible, and the third leopard could barely be seen at the back of the enclosure. I have no problem with animals being difficult to spot, but all three exhibits are far too small for such powerfully large cats. After the spectacular bear and otter habitats the amur leopards are shown in cages that lack the excitement of the rest of the new enclosures. I couldn't believe the tiny size of the habitats, and that two out of three there is thick, ugly mesh obscuring the vision of people straining their eyes as they search for the elusive leopards.

    Northern Trail - the pair of amur tiger enclosures are apparently the largest in North America, and there were 2 tigers in each exhibit. The habitats were set in a heavily wooded forest, with large meadows adjacent to the countless trees. It took quite a bit of skill to actually locate the tigers, and the enclosures were fantastic for the animals. Again, these are older exhibits but nevertheless outstanding.

    Many of the paddocks at the Minnesota Zoo are enormous: bison in a 3 acre exhibit, a herd of 5-6 takin in a half-acre paddock, pronghorn antelope had about 2 acres, bactrian camel had 2 acres, mexican gray and timber wolves each had at least an acre, etc. Huge enclosures that brought a smile to my face, as I'm always all over zoos that build exhibits that don't allow their animals room to roam. The bison, camel and moose habitats had huge pools in them, and the musk oxen must have had at least 5 or more acres and a gigantic lake in their enclosure!

    Discovery Bay - 4 dolphins in a lacklustre 15-minute show in an aging dolphinarium that was so-so at best. The pools weren't quite big enough for such intelligent animals, and the other aquarium tanks (sharks, fish, seahorses, sea turtles) were underwhelming. My first impression at entering the mammoth building was one of delight, but after the novelty of the facades wore off there was nothing but merely adequate exhibits that have been done far better elsewhere.

    Tropics Trail - a large indoor rainforest set of habitats that showcase a surprisingly diverse list of animals. Red pandas mixed with long-horned gorals in a rocky exhibit, a tamandua with armadillos and cotton-top tamarins, clouded leopard, a stinky binturong with a swimming malayan tapir, golden-lion tamarins with agoutis and a sloth, a fishing cat in a puny exhibit, slow loris, pgymy loris, komodo dragon, water monitor, burmese python, flying foxes, tri-coloured squirrels, lemurs, etc. The problem with this section of the zoo is that every single one of the habitats was far too small.

    The sun bear indoor grotto is the smallest that I've ever seen for that bear, the red pandas had two trees extremely close to the public to climb on, the fishing cat was in a glass cage that was horribly small, the matschie's tree kangaroos were in an embarrassingly tiny cage, the chevrotains were in a matchbox-sized hole, the ringtailed and red ruffed lemurs were shoved together in a cramped exhibit. The white-cheeked gibbons were languishing in a pretty and yet small (and completely fake) island. Gorgeous animals but in exhibits that were toooo small.

    Minnesota Trail - lots of adequate to very nice exhibits for North American animals, in which this zoo specializes in. At least 3 wolverines, 5 fishers (which we didn't see), wolves, coyotes, porcupines, a bald eagle, owls, river otters, beavers, lynx, cougar. All fairly well done.

    Overall - the Minnesota Zoo's outdoor exhibits were without question enormous in comparison to many other zoo's enclosures. Even a solitary moose had a half-acre to itself! The hoofstock, tiger, sea otter, grizzly bear, wolves, etc all had some of the largest and most naturalistic exhibits that I've ever seen. Even the Japanese macaques had an ordinary yet fairly large, grassy enclosure that allowed for the troop to spread out in their own space. Many of these habitats would place the zoo in the top echelon of North American zoological collections. At this point I was over the moon with this surprisingly pleasant zoo...BUT...

    However, the dolphinarium and small set of aquariums are outdated and not worth much time in exploring. The rainforest set of exhibits is crammed into less than 2 acres, and there are numerous absolutely wonderful species of animals in nothing but tiny cages. The indoor exhibits tainted my overall opinion of what is a decent zoo. With attendance soaring due to the opening of "Russia's Grizzly Coast" then perhaps the zoo can move up in the unofficial rankings of North America's best zoos. The new set of habitats (aside from the amur leopards) are quite amazing, and a candidate for the AZA Exhibit of the Year Award.
     
  2. Quartz92

    Quartz92 Well-Known Member

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    Great review! From it, it seems like the zoo is small? It not that pleasing to hear that the amur leopard enclosures are disippointing. When I watch the pod cats and news reports the MNZOO sounded like they relied on the amur leopards a lot, meaning that the zoo was saying they are looking forward to breeding them and reintroducing them into the wild, since they are such an endagered species. It sorta sucks that they have such great exhibits for the grizzlys and otters and they started to slack off with the boars and leopards. It could have been lack of funding.
     
  3. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    I think there are certain zoo exhibit realities at play as well.
    Boars are so destructive of their exhibits (unless it is all concrete) that the larger the exhibit, the bigger the devastation. Plus, a pile of sleeping boars sixty feet away is not what gets zoo visitors' hearts pounding. Leopards are not destructive (for the most part) but hide and stay still. Again, a smaller enclosure makes for a more visitor-friendly experience. In the case of "Russia's Grizzly Coast", there is almost as much vertical space as horizontal, so the leopards have diverse enclosures, although not large. It's also true that leopard enclosures require tented mesh, so a bigger footprint really increases the costs.

    BTW - the bear exhibit is not as large as it appears!
     
  4. reduakari

    reduakari Well-Known Member

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    I've talked with some of the animal staff at Minnesota and they are very happy with the leopard exhibits. Apparently they are designed as three separate spaces but all have connecting doors that when left open effectively joins them into a single space, when there are compatible animals (as is currently the case). When added together, these three spaces are larger than just about any other leopard exhibit in the country, and as pointed out by Zooplantman, the complexity and usable vertical space make it a really good leopard environment. But sometimes hard to find the shy leopards.

    And the Minnesota Zoo is far from small. It covers almost 500 acres, although only a portion of that has been developed.

    The dolphin area is awful, and despite its appearance is really not that old--it opened in the late 90s!

    And the Tropical exhibit is like so many of its era--many small exhibits in a big glass house. It compares favorably with some of the well-known ones, like Brookfield's Tropic World (which originally had no natural light!), Zoo New England and even the very over-rated Lied Jungle in Omaha.

    But it really sounds like with Grizzly Coast and the Minnesota Trail, this zoo is starting to live up to the promise it had when it was founded in the late 70s, before it lost its way.

    Looking forward to the reviews of the 3 Chicago institutions!
     
  5. kiang

    kiang Well-Known Member

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    Good job snow leopard looking forward to following your trans continental trek.
     
  6. ANyhuis

    ANyhuis Well-Known Member

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    Nice Review!

    Wow, it seems that all zoo-lovers are flocking to Russia's Grizzly Coast. And with good reason, as it is America's first cultural display of Russian animals. My coauthor has already been there, and I will be there in 2 weeks. I'll also be visited the vastly UNDER-rated Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.

    It should be noted that even though the wild boars may have not been the most exciting species to see, they are rarely exhibited elsewhere in the USA. Ditto for the sea otters.

    Snowleopard, I'm impressed with you 20+ zoos you're hitting on this trip. I did a similar trip back in 1995, seeing exactly 20 zoos and aquariums in California, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

    As for the Exhibit of the Year award, as we discussed elsewhere, the excellence of the exhibit is NOT what matters, but instead it's the excellence of the paper application. But if it were merely based on the "potential" of the new exhibits, I'd say that Russia's Grizzly Coast and Miami's "Amazon and Beyond" would be the top 2 contenders for that award.
     
  7. Jessie

    Jessie New Member

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    Minnesota Zoo

    I went to the Minnesota Zoo recently as well and here are my pictures:

    Jessie Zgurski's Photos - Minnesota Zoo | Facebook

    My camera ran out of batteries once I got to the animals of Minnesota section and I didn't have time to run to the shop and get more batteries and run back.

    I thought it was quite nice overall. Some of the indoor enclosures were indeed a bit small.

    The outdoor enclosures, however, were quite large. One tiger enclosure had a spotting scope near it for people to look through in case the tiger was far away. Most (all?) of the animals had large pools, and a lot of animals (including the bison) were sitting in them, trying to cool off. The brown bears were in their water swimming around trying to catch fish. The bears could be seen underwater through the glass, so that was a major hit.

    I didn't see the dolphin show, but the dolphin area wasn't anything to write home about. I saw the bird show which was good. Being a parrot fanatic, I loved seeing the Hyacinth Macaw. I wonder if it's some sort of Zoo rule that bird shows must have a Galah that retrieves a dollar bill from someone?

    I couldn't spot the Amur leopards either. That's too bad since I've never seen one. On the other hand, it was a hot day and I'd probably be sleeping hidden away if I were a leopard.
     
  8. mstickmanp

    mstickmanp Well-Known Member

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  9. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @Quartz92: the Minnesota Zoo is massive (500 acres) and one of the largest zoos in North America in terms of total land. However, they obviously only use a portion of that amount. The outdoor paddocks and newer exhibits were all hugely impressive, but the large "Discovery Bay" and "Tropics Trail" buildings were lacking as many animals were crammed into tiny enclosures.

    @Jessie: the amur tiger pair of exhibits are indeed massive! They are the largest tiger enclosures in North America, and as I wrote earlier it seemed as if the visitors were surrounded by coniferous trees in an enormous forest. I can't commend these exhibits highly enough, and in fact the Minnesota Zoo's outdoor habitats were just about all top-notch. The zoo was very impressive, but my visit was definitely tainted by the lack of suitable indoor habitats.

    @reduakari: knowing that the trio of critically endangered amur leopards potentially have access to all 3 new exhibits is a relief, as that will give them a hell of a lot more room to roam. That juicy piece of information should perhaps have been posted outside one of the exhibits, as there were barely any zoo visitors who actually saw any of the leopards.

    @Zooplantman: I suspected that the grizzlies didn't have as much space as one is led to believe, but the sightlines for the exhibit boundaries are cleverly hidden. Great job designing "Russia's Grizzly Coast"!! I've seen sea otters in San Diego, Vancouver, Seattle, Tacoma and Monterey and at Minnesota there is the very best exhibit out of all of them. Ditto for the grizzlies, who have an enclosure that is perhaps in second place behind Seattle's "Northern Trail".

    I also enjoyed seeing the wild boars, and they had at least 4 striped piglets there sleeping in a corner. It was puzzling to see that only half the exhibit was meshed off (making it tough for photos), but the other half was bare and there was a third viewing opportunity at an indoor glass window. I have no problems at all with that exhibit, but still maintain that the amur leopards could have used more width in their habitat. If someone like me, who has seen a lot of zoos and remains critical of tiny exhibits, thinks that the leopards lack space then what will visitors think in 20 years when zoos have progressed even further in enclosure design? I still think that the "Russia's Grizzly Coast" set of habitats are absolutely outstanding, and made special mention of the "Central Plaza" in my Minnesota review. The water fountain, metal animal figures, wide-open spaces, etc all led to a pleasing environment. The Minnesota Zoo just needs to widen their diversity of animals, as in the entire zoo there are barely a handful of species from Africa. I see that in their long-term plans they are at least mulling over the option of adding some type of Africa complex.

    On our epic driving trip (4,000 km already in 6 days!!) my wife and I stopped in at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, North Dakota. Has anyone here at ZooBeat ever been there? There are many touristy little stores that sell trinkets that we skipped, but we did take some photos of the world's largest buffalo. It was made 49 years ago and is constructed out of gunite, steel and various other metals and plastics.

    However, the interesting aspect of this side trip is that the National Buffalo Museum has a herd of about 20 bison, which they actually call buffalo on all of their brochures. There is a female named "White Cloud" and her offspring "Dakota Miracle", and they are advertised as the only true albino bison in all of North America. There was a third white buffalo in the paddock, but I suppose that it was only a colour variation and not a pink-eyed albino. It was kind of cool to see the only two of their kind on the continent, if not the world, and I'll post a bunch of photos when I get back in late August.

    THANKS FOR ALL OF THE COMMENTS, AND ALL THOSE THAT HAVE PRIVATELY EMAILED ME (4 OF YOU) I'VE RESPONDED IN KIND.

    Today it's the Lincoln Park Zoo, and I'll post a review when I get a chance.
     
  10. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Lincoln Park Zoo Review: 4.5 hours (Minnesota Zoo was 5.5 hours)

    A packed house was at this small zoo today, and not surprisingly they reportedly receive over 3 million visitors per year. Like any zoo there is a mix of the excellent and the awful, and Lincoln Park is no exception. The historic architecture of downtown Chicago is replicated at the zoo, as many of the structures are close to 100 years old. It was also odd visiting a free zoo for the first time, as the grounds had joggers and couples walking through but not actually spending any time at the exhibits.

    Regenstein Center for African Apes - the one and only truly excellent set of habitats at the zoo, with two gorilla troops and a handful of chimpanzees. I believe that this is the newest revamp of the zoo, and it shows. The 3 large outdoor enclosures are all filled with tree stumps, various pieces of climbing appartus and lots of enrichment for the great apes. The 3 indoor rooms weren't huge but were also packed with a lot of climbing opportunities, and the approximately 4 chimps and 12 gorillas were fairly active. The gorillas were much more entertaining to watch, as the chimps are all quite old. One is almost 30, and the other 3 are all approaching 50...and they move like senior citizens.

    Regenstein African Journey - decent exhibits like the pygmy hippo, klipspringer/hyrax, dwarf crocodile and african wild dogs shine over the tiny colobus monkey display and the extremely small "Savanna".

    Kovler Lion House - an abomination to all animals. The lions and amur tigers have rocky grottoes that are so-so, but the inside quarters of the house should not house large cats. I was actually rather appalled as to the conditions inside, and the noise level on a packed summer day was crazy! My wife and I had to yell to each other to be heard, as group after group of summer camp school kids herded through this 1912 house. The prison cells for the big cats were smaller than I would ever had imagined in an American zoo.

    There was an amur leopard that paced back and forth the entire time we were there, and its exhibit was smaller than some people's bathrooms. The serval appeared to be deceased, the jaguar paced constantly over a spot about 3 feet wide, the black panther (leopard) was missing all of its hair on top of its head due to an allergy, and the outside enclosures weren't much better. Most of the cats only had access to their tiny, dark, dismal, dank indoor quarters, but the lions and tigers had their small grottoes to relax in. A mountain lion paced incessantly outside, the snow leopard wasn't on exhibit, the pallas' cat and red panda were nowhere to be seen, and the afghanistan leopard slept amongst the din of school kids. This historic building offers up crappy, barred cages for gorgeous big cats, and should be refurbished like the Bronx Zoo's lion house.

    Kovler Sea Lion Pool - a misnomer, as there weren't any sea lions in sight. A solitary harbour seal swam in circles, while a gray seal fended off seagulls.

    Primate House - some monkeys were lucky enough to have outdoor access, but the majority of the exhibits are indoors only. The zoo actually has an impressive primate collection, with around 15 different species, but the ancient primate house has hit-and-miss exhibits. At least the murals in the background convey the image of a lush rainforest!

    Small Mammal/Reptile House - quite good and with some rare species. Sand cats, fennec foxes, dwarf mongooses, naked mole rats and slow lorises were the highlights here.

    Bears - 4 species in total. The brother and sister polar bear were spectacular to see in the underwater viewing window, until after 15 minutes they barely ever deviated from their stereotypic motions. Either they were busy training for the Beijing Olympics or they were slowly going insane from the monotony of their lifestyle. The two sun bears were entertaining as they searched for hidden food, the spectacled bear was also good to see in a so-so grotto, but the american black bears are the only one of the 4 bear species represented at the zoo that have a decent enclosure. A winding, lushly planted enclosure is their reward for a life in Lincoln Park.

    Bird House - more than a 100 years old and filled with adequate exhibits at best.

    Penguin/Puffin House - could barely see the birds due to condensation, but a typically terrible penguin pool that was nowhere near deep enough.

    Children's Zoo - the black bears are found here, as well as excellent exhibits for beavers, river otters, red wolves (at least 6 of them!) and several smaller species.

    Hoofstock - there is a set of about 15 paddocks at the southern end of the zoo, which are average and adequate enclosures for various ungulates. Highlights include white-lipped deer, sable antelopes, takins, and arabian oryxes.

    Overall the Lincoln Park Zoo is obviously not regarded as one of the premier zoological collections in North America. In my humble opinion it has a superior set of habitats in the shape of the gorilla/chimpanzee exhibits, which rank as some of the best of their kind. However, the rest of the 35 acre zoo isn't up to par with the great ape enclosures. The bird house, lion house, penguin pool and various bear grottoes are all well past their due date. The big cats in the lion house must lead terrible lives, shut into puny cages and forced to endure a tremendous amount of amplified noise from the millions who stream through there each and every year. The problem is that there are so many beautiful and historically vital buildings on the zoo grounds that renovating them could be costly and tough to swallow for long-time Chicago residents.
     
  11. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    John G. Shedd Aquarium Review:

    Now this is an aquarium! It makes San Diego Seaworld appear to be gimmicky, and is leagues ahead of Melbourne, Sydney, Seattle and Vancouver. Those aquariums are not even close to the calibre of Shedd, and I'm not sure which aquariums on the planet are as good as this Chicago building. I'd even perhaps put it ahead of Monterey Bay Aquarium, although that is a close call. Without a doubt I can understand why some people have labelled North America as having 3 truly magnificent aquariums: Shedd, Georgia and Monterey Bay. Shedd is full of outstanding tanks and exhibits, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in aquariums. My wife and I just had an enormously long day, walking all around Lincoln Park Zoo for hours, then walking for almost 2 hours just to arrive at Shedd, and then spending close to 4 hours at the superb aquarium. We caught a taxi back to the motel as we are shattered...even though we plan to see Brookfield Zoo tomorrow.

    Entrance - the main building was built in 1930 and looks almost as if it should be some type of legislative meeting place. The walkway, columns, sightlines, etc are all brilliant and full of grandiose intentions. Walking up the steps a visitor feels as if they are going to be entering a fabulous establishment.

    Oceanarium - an absolutely brilliant setting, with Lake Michigan in the background against an enormous wall of glass. The 4 dolphins, at least 7 beluga whales (including a very young baby), penguins and sea otters all grace this huge portion of the aquarium. The sea otter and penguin pools are only average, and I thought that the beluga whales were a little starved for space as there were so many of them. The dolphin pool is quite large and very deep, the 20-minute show was informative, and the underwater viewing is available for all of these animals. Compared to the Minnesota Zoo's "Dolphinarium" this "Oceanarium" was very well done. It must have cost a small fortune....

    Wild Reef - brilliant setup with fake coral passageways on the walls and ceiling allowing visitors to imagine themselves in an actual coral reef. There were a tremendous number of fish, plus sharks and everything else that one would wish to see in such tanks.

    Caribbean Reef - large tank in the central rotunda, and packed solid with a variety of hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, stingrays and fish. A terrific first impression.

    Amazon Rising - possibly the best set of exhibits in the entire aquarium. The attention to detail is second to none, and no wonder this institution has won so many exhibit awards! The literature on the walls and beside the tanks was astonishing, and the recreation of homes, canoes, mangrove swamps makes one picture themselves floating down the mighty Amazon. A dynamic set of habitats that evokes the cultural and thematic appearance of South America.

    Lizards and the Komodo King - a temporary exhibit set in a large hall that features rotating habitats every few years. This gallery had a large komodo dragon in an impressive exhibit, plus between 20-25 other lizard species. The blue monitor lizard was a particular highlight as I'd never seen one before and they are an extremely bold colour.

    Waters of the World - many, many other tanks in 4 different hallways, all jammed with everything aquatic under the sun. Name an animal and it will surely be found here.

    Overall the John G. Shedd Aquarium is an outstanding set of tanks, and is surely one of the best aquariums in the world. I even purchased a superb 2005 history book of the first 75 years of the place for only $15. I could complain that the sea otter pool is too small, or that the belugas need more space, but for the most part everything was as good as it could possibly be. Two massive giftshops might be overkill, but when an institution is this good it is difficult to deny them a second store. There are those of you that might think that your local aquarium is quite impressive (I live near an excellent one in Vancouver) but trust me when I say that your local aquarium doesn't compare to Shedd. Only Monterey Bay and Georgia in North America come close...or are there others that I haven't mentioned? The National Aquarium in Baltimore?

    P.S. On a side note the huge "Oceanarium" is actually going to be closed down for at least 6 months for some minor painting and renovations. I was told that it will possibly shut down in September and then reopen before the summer of 2009. So anyone planning a trip to Chicago should at least wait until next summer.
     
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  12. MARK

    MARK Well-Known Member

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    Sounds wonderful and outstanding, oh if you can get some photos of Brookfields zoos Okapis that would be great, Cheers
     
  13. Jessie

    Jessie New Member

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    Oops. Thanks for pointing that out to me!

    snowleopard: thanks for all the time you put into these reviews. The John Shedd Aquarium sounds awesome! What a shame about the cats at the Lincoln Park Zoo, though. If they have space to move around in, complex enclosures, and new scents and objects to hunt for, big cats can be so wonderful to watch. One pacing around bored is just a sad sight. Hopefully, renovations are in the plans for them.
     
  14. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    Snowleopard - your reviews bring back happy visions of these zoos. You are really doing a great job of taking us with you. Thanks!
     
  15. kiang

    kiang Well-Known Member

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    I had always assumed Lincoln park to be one of the better zoos in the U.S, which i'm sure in parts it still is, but oh my shades of Regents park here!
     
  16. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Time for another review!! Thanks for all of the comments, and as long as there is continued interest then I'll keep on truckin' with these informative reviews. As some of you might have noticed I don't mince words when describing exhibits, whether they are excellent or appalling. I called the Lion House at the Lincoln Park Zoo "an abomination to animals" and went on further with my disgusted description of that horrible set of cages. But at the same time I was extremely enthusiastic about the John G. Shedd Aquarium, which is obviously one of the best of its kind in the world. I will continue to give my honest opinions on this epic zoo trip, and if anything I am probably slightly more critical of enclosures than the average zoo visitor.

    One thing that I've sadly noticed is that the vast number of zoo visitors fail to read any of the literature on signs around exhibits. At the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago today there was a ton of thematic content illustrated on beautiful signs while entering many of the numerous buildings on the site. My wife and I at one point sat there and watched herds of people filtering into the building, often yelling at their mischievous children, and I can guarantee all of you that less than 5% of the visitors read more than two words on any of the signs. The zoo has probably spent thousands and thousands of dollars (and millions on murals and backdrops for the exhibits) and it all goes to waste as no one besides myself and a small handful of others bothers to read any of it!

    Brookfield Zoo Review - 6.5 hours

    This is a large zoo in more ways than one. Including all of the small cafes and ice cream stands there are 14 establishments selling food, and 6 gift stores that vary in size. The animal collection is diverse and covers almost all the major groups, and there is quite often a bit of walking between exhibits. It is vastly superior to the Lincoln Park Zoo (both are in Chicago) but nevertheless has some disappointing exhibits that need to be renovated. The reliance on aging buildings means that some of the animal houses are extremely old and a little weary around the edges.

    The 6.5 hours that my wife and I were there didn't include visiting the children's zoo, the Hamill Family play zoo, stingray bay touch tank, the butterfly garden or the dolphin show. All 5 of those exhibits cost extra for each and every one, which is on top of regular zoo admission. For double the cost we could have paid for a ticket that was good for all of them, but to be honest we are seeing so many zoos that to miss yet another dolphin show, some boring butterflies (haha), more stingrays and some children's farm animals wasn't a tough decision. It was already a full day, and now having seen all 3 Chicago animal attractions it is time to head to Detroit and see the famous "Arctic Ring of Life" exhibit at that zoo.

    One great thing about Brookfield is that many of the antiquated and disappointing enclosures are due to be renovated. The polar and grizzly bears live in typical grottoes, but they receive multi-million dollar exhibits in 2009, along with bald eagles and bison in a North American set of habitats. The children's zoo appears to be small and old, but it is getting a make-over for 2010. The North Gate is being renovated, and the ancient Reptile House is currently closed and something will be going up in its place by 2011. The pachyderm house is another building due for possible demoliton, and the zoo's elephants will be in a 5 acre set of paddocks in a few years time. All of that news makes for an interesting future for Brookfield Zoo. The zoo's exhibits are set up in a haphazard way, and perhaps in the future they will lean towards a more geographic representation of their many species of animals.

    The Best:

    Wolf Woods - a truly glorious exhibit that opened in 2004, and it's easy to tell that it's new and fresh. This is a 2-acre enclosure for 4 mexican gray wolves, and there are multiple viewing opportunities for visitors. One-way glass that the wolves cannot see into, interactive menus for children, and terrific views make this one of the best wolf exhibits that I've ever seen. Probably the best exhibit in the zoo.

    Habitat Africa! The Savannah - 4 giraffes roam an expansive enclosure, and a covered hut allows for remarkable close positioning of these great animals. The african wild dog and waterbuck/ostrich/warthog paddocks are also spacious and naturalistic.

    Habitat Africa! The Forest - we took lots of photos of the 3-4 okapi, who were a little difficult to spot at times due to fencing and trees. It was hard to tell how many there were, but they were gorgeous and impressive. The forest buffalo and red river hogs were also a highlight of this area.

    Tropic World - on first appearance this is a spectacular indoor rainforest set in an absolutely magnificent building. The 4 species of monkey, tapir and anteater in the first part of the building are fabulous to watch, and there were 3 cotton-top tamarins that sat directly above my head. However, everything is fake. Concrete moulded rocks, fake trees, fake vines, etc, and the enclosure shows its 30-year age. Tough to categorize this immensely breathtaking structure, as on the one hand its sheer "unreality" makes it difficult to justify its name of "Tropic World". There is nothing tropical inside of it! But at the same time the animals jumping around the branches were seemingly perfectly at ease, and they all have a much larger space to roam around in than at any other zoo on the planet. There is no other zoo that gives spider monkeys, mangabeys, tamarins, tapirs, anteaters and guenons the space that is given to them in this concrete jungle.

    The second part of "Tropic World" features white-cheeked gibbons, asian small-clawed otters and orangutans, with a similarly massive enclosure with loads of climbing opportunities.

    The third part of the house features guenons, mandrills, colobus monkeys and a pygmy hippo, and while we were in there a thundering rainstorm pounded the concrete floor. What I felt was the weakest part of the entire building was the gorilla island at the end of the great hall. There were 7-8 gorillas crammed on an island, and they were completely surrounded by people as the path encircled the exhibit. There was obviously no grass, trees, leaves, or anything real for them to grasp, and hundreds of people were not allowing them any privacy. I think that "Tropic World" is terrific for the smaller primates, but the orangutans and gorillas needed much more space and privacy. I really enjoyed parts of this building, but it still needs some more "reality" to continue to be highly regarded.

    The Fragile Kingdom - a hit and miss affair, with stunning mixed-species habitats (african crested porcupines and meerkats...plus binturongs, prevosts squirrels and asian small-clawed otters) set in themed rooms that pull the visitor into other worlds. But at the same time many of the grottoes are typically terrible. Sloth bears, lions, tigers, etc all deserve better. Great idea but just not carried out to its fullest.

    The Worst:

    Bear grottoes - typically boring, ancient pits that are soon to be either demolished or revamped for other animals. There is already a massive set of cleared earth for 2009's "Great Bear Wilderness", which is going in right next door to the brilliant mexican gray wolf habitat.

    Perching Bird House - old, tiny, glass-fronted cages that were about 4 feet wide and maybe 8 feet high. Lots of small birds in cramped surroundings, and this building should be torn down.

    Baboon Island - not much shade here on a steaming hot day. The common baboons were scattered all over the completely fake island, made out of smoking hot concrete. There were about 10 baboons huddled in the shady areas in this large, yet fake exhibit. No grass allowed!

    Seven Seas - built almost 50 years ago, and with small tanks for dolphins, harbour seals and sea lions this is another old Chicago building that should perhaps meet a bulldozer. John G. Shedd Aquarium's dolphin tank blows this one out of the water! (pun intended)

    Pachyderm House - paddocks that are actually better than many that I've seen, but in a few years time this will be another building that will be destroyed. The indoor quarters, which are open to the public, are particularly tiny for such massive animals. However, there is a great selection at the zoo, with hippos, pygmy hippos, african elephants, tapirs and black rhinos all surrounding an antiquated cement structure.

    Overall the Brookfield Zoo has an amazing and diverse collection of animals. There is also a "Living Coast" section with penguins and sea animals, a series of hoofstock paddocks, a fairly large Australian house, a Florida swamp themed house, etc, that I didn't describe in depth, but it is a large zoo with a vast amount of space for enclosures.

    I enjoyed the spacious Brookfield Zoo, and especially the wolves, African enclosures, aardvarks, parts of "Tropic World" and the diversity of the collection. Many of the older buildings are in the process of being demolished, and while this is currently a good zoo I believe that in another ten years time it could be a truly great zoo.
     
  17. MARK

    MARK Well-Known Member

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    7 May 2005
    Posts:
    3,511
    Location:
    Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
    I am enjoying all of your reviews, please keep them coming, Cheers
     
  18. Ungulate

    Ungulate Well-Known Member

    Joined:
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    483
    Location:
    Toronto, ON
    Thanks for spending the time to do these reviews, snowleopard.

    Although I haven't been to Brookfield for several years (1999?), I would generally agree with your comments. The African forest section was under construction when I visited, so that corner of the zoo was blocked off - disappointing to hear that fencing gets in the way of the okapi. The most surprising exhibits when I visited were the Savannah building (with an indoor, open exhibit of klipspringers, which seemed to rise vertically just on the other side of the people barrier), the African section of the Fragile Kingdom, and the penguin building (with a crashig wave which almost comes into the viewing area!).

    Enjoy Detroit ... having just visited, I suspect you will have some similar comments to Brookfield; the new exhibits (Arctic Ring of Life, Amphibiville) are fantastic, but some of the old ones are quite tired and in need of a good bulldozer. I'll be surprised if the ARoL does anything besides knock your socks off!
     
  19. CZJimmy

    CZJimmy Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    17 Oct 2007
    Posts:
    2,271
    Location:
    Uk
    Some great reviews there, Snowleopard! Keep them coming!

    Perhaps you could add your proposed shedule into your first post so that fellow zoobeat members can keep track of which zoos you are visiting and when?
     
  20. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
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    Posts:
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    Location:
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    @CZ Jimmy: here is my original itinerary, which can also be found (along with various other comments) on the thread "Summer Road Trip". I've copied and pasted it below, but there will be some changes. My wife and I have visited, reviewed and taken close to a thousand photos of the first 4 institutions...and so Detroit should be next. However, one change is that more than likely the National Aquarium in Baltimore will be skipped, and after the first 14 zoos and aquariums I'm not sure if the list will stay the same. We will still be going to over 20 zoos, and the list might be almost identical as to the one posted below...but a road trip is a living, breathing organism and could alter slightly as time progresses. After the Cincinnati Zoo we might head south and then along the southern border of the United States as proposed, or we might head back to western Canada through the center of the country. Time will tell...and either way I'll be posting comprehensive reviews of the 20+ zoos as we drive across such a vast continent.


    1- Minnesota Zoo
    2- Lincoln Park Zoo
    3- John G. Shedd Aquarium
    4- Brookfield Zoo
    5- Detroit Zoo
    6- Toronto Zoo
    7- Montreal Biodome + Insectarium
    8- Bronx Zoo
    9- Central Park Wildlife Center
    10- National Aquarium in Baltimore
    11- National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
    12- Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium
    13- Columbus Zoo
    14- Cincinnati Zoo
    15- Louisville Zoo
    16- Georgia Aquarium
    17- Zoo Atlanta
    18- Memphis Zoo
    19- Fort Worth Zoo
    20- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
    21- Phoenix Zoo
    22- San Diego Zoo
    23- San Diego Seaworld
    24- Monterey Bay Aquarium
    25- Oregon Zoo