- Animal Olympians: Compared to a lot of zoo animals, we humans are a pretty puny bunch of apes. Zoo animals are pretty amazing at running, jumping, climbing, and other physical activities. How good are they? Let's find out! Let visitors challenge themselves and see how they stack up against the top animal athletes. Can they run as fast as a cheetah? Mark off a flat stretch and see how fast they can run it. Can they jump as far as a kangaroo? How about a bullfrog? Measure and find out! It'll make visitors view animals with an extra degree of respect when they see how they measure up.
- Animal Playgrounds: A lot of zoos have playgrounds, which are, of course, huge hits with kids. How about a playground that specifically encourages animal activities? Burrow through tunnels like a prairie dig. Swing from monkey bars like a gibbon. Dig in a sandbox like a badger. Walk on a balance beam like a leopard. It isn't just fun and games - encouraging kids to act like animals is the first step in teaching them to empathize with them as fellow living things, deserving of consideration.
- Strike a Pose: On a similar note, use signage throughout the zoo to teach guests about the movements that animals make and encourage them to duplicate them. Teach them how giraffes have to splay themselves out to reach the water to drink, and then have them do the same. Explain why flamingos stand on one leg, and then see how well they can balance like that. Chimps walk on their knuckles, warthogs feed on their knees... try it out (with suitable padding on the ground at this site). Not only is it educational and getting people moving, but it makes for some great photo ops. Speaking of posing, ever notice how so many yoga positions have animal names? There's dog, cat, cobra, dolphin, camel... imagine a "Yoga at the Zoo" event! You could even invent new poses for specific zoo animals (but don't ask what "pygmy hippo" would be).
- Arboreal or Aquatic: Zip-lines and rope courses are becoming popular at many zoos, and they certainly get visitors moving (though when I do them, most of the exercise comes from my knees knocking). It can also allow visitors to experience the animals - especially tree-dwellers - in different ways. Similarly, imagine an aquarium with swimming pools built into it, allowing visitors to swim alongside (but separate from) the animals. Try swimming like a seal versus swimming like a shark. Can you leap like a dolphin? How long can you hold your breath compared to an alligator? It would be a tremendous hassle (to say nothing of safety liability) to manage a swimming area in a facility, but maybe it could be limited to small, special educational groups who could be directly supervised by staff.
These are just a few ideas that popped into my head about how to get visitors physical active and mentally stimulated at the zoo or aquarium. I'm sure there are plenty that I haven't thought of. If you have any ideas, please don't hesitate to share!