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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Zoo Review: Oglebay's Good Zoo

The only AZA-accredited facility in West Virginia, Oglebay’s Good Zoo is found on the grounds of the Oglebay resort in Wheeling.  Originally the facility displayed only North American species, but in recent years has begun swapping out some of the natives for more exotic animals.  The animal collection is divided into two parts.  The reptiles, amphibians, and small birds and mammals are located in the zoo’s entry building (also housing a gift shop, snack bar, planetarium, and massive model train display).  The handful of larger birds and mammals can be found along a short, meandering trail that loops out from the back of the building.

Oglebay is often simply known as “the Good Zoo” (which, to be fair, is not a stab at self-promotion: the zoo is named for a young boy who loved animals).  “The Okay Zoo” might be more apt.  The collection is nice, with a few species that would be of interest to a zoo professional – the Chinese goral/red panda mixed exhibited is particularly interesting – but lacking most of the animals that interest the average visitor.  Exhibits run the gamut from very natural and attractive (red-crowned crane, kangaroos) to reasonably nice (African wild dog) to shabby (lemur, ocelot).  There really isn’t much of a theme or sense of purpose to the collection; it was if it was all just… collected.  The main building takes a brief stab at having animals in themed galleries, arranged with a purpose in mind, but it doesn’t really play out as well as it could.  In the end, it resembles a playroom with a few animal exhibits lining the walls.  Nothing I saw suggests that the animals receive anything less than good care.  It’s just that I feel we should aspire to more than that.

I’m probably being harsh to Oglebay, unfairly so, perhaps, but here’s the thing.  Twice a year, Oglebay resort is home to the AZA’s professional development school, which means that top zoo professionals and rising stars alike converge on Wheeling for two weeks out of each year.  Most if not all of those teachers and students visit the zoo at least once when they are there, either for a casual stroll or as part of a classroom exercise.  With all of the zoo community’s top minds constantly looking at the zoo, it really should be the recipient of some great ideas.  Not expensive ideas, per se – not building multi-million dollar exhibits – but ideas to improve the visitor experience, the educational message, and exhibit quality.  Money for change and improvement is, and always will be, tight at any zoo.  However, with a little direct attention and application of ideas, Oglebay’s Good Zoo could become a great zoo.  That would make it a great teaching example for the visiting classes.

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