Search This Blog

Friday, September 12, 2014

Zoo Review: Mill Mountain Zoo

Of the four AZA-accredited institutions in Virginia, three - the Virginia Zoo, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, and Virginia Living Museum - are crowded on the southeast coast of the state, where the Chesapeake Bay spills into the Atlantic Ocean.  The fourth institution is clear across the state, tucked into the Blue Ridges mountains.  This is the small, often overlooked Mill Mountain Zoo.

When I say Mill Mountain is small, I mean it is small... very.  Carved into the side of its namesake mountain (best known for housing the giant metal star that overlooks the city of Roanoke), there is almost no flat space in the zoo, most of which feels crowded.  There are few large animals - the takin is probably the largest single animal in the zoo - and it's hard to imagine that in the 1970's, the zoo once housed an elephant.  In recent years, the most famous animal resident is probably the Japanese macaque "Oops"; as the name might suggest, she was an escapee, whose week on the lam was covered by national news.

The collection is skewed towards East Asia (a frequently neglected geographic area), which has a climate similar to southwestern Virginia.  This means that many animals are out on display year round (ideal, since, apart from the small reptile house, there are no indoor exhibits).  Mill Mountain can't boast of many of the more popular zoo animals, but it does have a collection of interest for a zoo professional, as it has many less-common species.  Takin, tufted deer, hooded cranes, and Pallas cats are among the species on display, along with more recognizable residents, such as red pandas, snow leopards, and red wolves.  The animal that I will always associate with Mill Mountain, however, is the wolverine - the first wolverine (come to think of it, the only wolverine) that I've ever seen.

A few years back, the idea was floated to relocate the zoo from its present location to a larger place in the lowlands, redubbing it "the Blue Ridge Zoo."  This idea was shelved and forgotten... more's the pity.  The zoo could have used more space... as well as a new start.  A lot of the enclosures I found somewhat unimpressive, especially the macaque, otter, and other small mammal displays.  You could tell that the keepers were doing what they could with what they had, but when you're working with a Behlen cage (basically a silo of wire on a concrete pad), your options are, understandably, limited.  Nothing that suggests that animals aren't cared for (bad zoos that I've visited I typically don't mention at all on here so as to avoid giving them any publicity)... just... uninspired.

Not to be too negative - I spent plenty of my career at small zoos with limited means.  Some of the exhibits, such the newer Eurasian black vulture exhibit, looked pretty good, as did the cougar display (the only open-topped puma exhibit I've ever seen).  The reptile house (staff built, I'm told) was pretty decent.  It just seems that it would be best if, instead of patching things up, the zoo got the chance to tear down and start fresh.

This Eurasian black vulture exhibit is better than it looks... just a lousy shot on my part.

Definitely worth a look if you're in the area.

1 comment:

  1. The Zoo is lacking with animal life. There was no bear, it use to be, and the main attraction of the Zoo he prairie dogs are gone. The workers are very pleasant, but will not be returning due to NO PRARIE DOGS.