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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Zoo Review: North Carolina Zoo

Tucked in between North Carolina's three largest cities, the North Carolina Zoo is one of America's newest zoos, having opened its gates in 1971.  It is also one of the largest walking zoos (as opposed to drive-through safari parks) in the world, sprawling over 2,000 acres.  These two traits make it one of the most extraordinary zoos in the nation, where modern philosophy of animal husbandry and zoo exhibit design were given a clean slate and room to grow.

For the first half of the zoo's relatively young existence, it focused almost exclusively on animals of Africa.  Perhaps the most extraordinary exhibit is the massive Watani Grasslands - at forty acres, bigger than many zoos are in their entirety.  White rhinos are the stars here, but they share the grasslands with several species of African antelope and tall birds.  African elephants are found in an adjacent enclosure, which appears to be part of the main exhibit.  Zebras, giraffe, and ostrich are found in a nearby enclosure.  Further exhibits in the Africa area house lions, lemurs, and red river hogs.  Two of Africa's great apes - chimpanzees and western lowland gorillas - are found in their own spacious meadow exhibits.

Ironically for such a young zoo, the state-of-the-art exhibit when the zoo opened is now emptied of animals.  The old African Pavilion used to be home to a recreated African rainforest, featuring leopards, mandrills, and a collection of African birds and reptiles.  Now it stands mostly empty of animals - outside, a cliff-face habitat holds hamadryas baboons.  The bird collection of the zoo is located in the nearby Reynold's Forest Aviary; grab a laminated guide (or print your own off at home) and try to find as many of the beautiful birds as you can in this wild-through forest.  Prior to the addition of North American exhibits, this was the only display to break the geographic mold.

Starting in the 1990's, the zoo began dabbling with North American wildlife with fantastic results.  In the first of the North American exhibits to open - the Sonoran Desert - roadrunners, tortoises, rattlesnakes, quail, and ocelot are found beneath a glass dome.  Nocturnal creatures of the desert - including vampire bats and cacomistle (or "ringtail cats", actually a raccoon relative) are found in a darkened side gallery.  Other biomes represented in the North American area are the swamp (home to alligators and puma), the plains (bison and elk, with geysers in the foreground), and the Stream, where otters, turtles, and fish can be seen underwater.  Three of North America's largest predators are found in side-by-side enclosures for grizzlies, black bears, and red wolves; North Carolina is the only place on earth where red wolves still live in the wild.  The final North American area is the Rocky Coast, where polar bears, seals, and a large collection of Arctic seabirds are displayed.  Some of the "Suarez Seven", polar bears rescued from a life in a Mexican circus, found their homes here.

Any issues that the zoo visitor has with North Carolina Zoo will mostly have to do with scale.  It's big and spread out, and it can be tiring for parents to navigate children through what seem like empty stretches (that and it's surprisingly easy to get lost).  The enormous enclosures may frustrate some visitors - to my amazement, when I first visited the Watani Grasslands, I didn't see a single animal - rhino, antelope, or bird - in the entire area.  Still, it's probably better to change visitor expectations about what a zoo should be rather than change a zoo to be what we think visitors might want at the expense of the animals.

Apart from its excellent exhibits, the zoo has a celebrated breeding history (especially among birds), as well as a great conservation track record, supporting conservation and research programs in Africa and in North Carolina.  Recently, the zoo has begun hinting at a possible third geographic area - Asia.  If they accomplish it on the scale that they have with Africa and North America, North Carolina Zoo could stand to be one of the greatest, most exciting zoos on the east coast.

1 comment:

  1. North Carolina Zoo Posted on Top Advisor Today July 14, 2018

    NC Zoo & Staff are OUTSTANDING!
    First of all, let me begin with by stating just how phenomenal the North Carolina Zoo is with its am...First of all, let me begin with by stating just how phenomenal the North Carolina Zoo is with its amazing, sprawling array of absolutely beautiful animals within an outstanding and well kept environmental habitat. Very few zoos throughout the world are comparable to this absolute plethora of beauty. I would also like to add that the staff is incredibly friendly and helpful. In addition, the professionalism and spirited nature of the staff is particularly refreshing.

    One such example of the North Carolina Zoo's welcoming spirit is embodied within Mr. Doug Williams who greeted my granddaughter and me at the zoo's entrance in April 2018. Right from the outset, before entering the zoo, you are greeted with class by Mr. Williams who is such a classy gentleman himself.
    He is an outstanding NC Zoo team member who merits the highest distinction and recognition by management and ownership alike.

    He absolutely possesses the personality, intelligence and temperament to continue to be a very successful reflection of the zoo's "mantra of excellence" in the years ahead. I have interacted with many company representatives throughout the years and Mr. Williams easily ranks among the very best of them. He is the perfect "greeter" as everyone is about to enter the premises to embark on an incredible and memorable family experience. (He is first to set the tone that is reflective of the other class staff members who are inside the zoo).

    As I conclude this brief review, I am requesting that Mr. Williams will receive recognition by his immediate supervisor(s) and by the owners/municipality because The North Carolina Zoo is fortunate to have such an outstanding employee. In fact, he was so helpful, courteous, classy, polite and professional that it warrants repeating that he deserves the "highest" recognition by the appropriate personnel. Thank you for taking the time to read this commendation about one of your (many) outstanding and worthy family entertainment industry employees.

    Robert Rao
    Visited April 2018